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Secure Communities making our communities insecure and unsecure

Senator BILL PERKINS | 8/17/2011, 3:50 p.m.
All across the country, in states like California, Illinois, Massachusetts and New York, lawmakers have...
Bill Perkins

All across the country, in states like California, Illinois, Massachusetts and New York, lawmakers have been withdrawing their states' participation in Secure Communities because of the threat it poses to the rights of immigrant communities and their families and to safety in our neighborhoods.

Secure Communities was originally conceived and promoted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as "a simple and common sense way to carry out U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) priorities...[such as] removal of criminal aliens, those who pose a threat to public safety and repeat immigration violators." However, in practice it has become one of the primary tools used to deport individuals based solely on their immigration status, with little to no credence given to one's criminality or lack thereof.

Initially proposed as a voluntary program to which states and localities could choose to opt in or out, it is now being thrust upon the states with no appreciation for states' rights. There is a growing concern among many, including myself, that DHS's recent decision to no longer honor the memorandums of agreement between the federal government and state and local jurisdictions will undoubtedly amplify the negative impact Secure Communities has on our community policing, including the violation of individuals' civil rights.

I have the distinct pleasure of representing a diverse district, with people who come from different countries all over the world. Individuals from various ethnic backgrounds and nationalities, including a large number of West African, Mexican, Caribbean and Dominican immigrants, among others, reside in my district (Harlem, East Harlem, El Barrio, Morningside Heights, Washington Heights and Inwood). Within these communities are families at risk of being torn apart because of the draconian policies set forth by programs such as Secure Communities.

Secure Communities creates communities of insecurity because it drives undocumented residents of this state further into the shadows, making it less likely for them to attain documented status and becoming fully integrated into the community. It also directly threatens the sustainability of effective policing. The increased fear and tension caused by Secure Communities among the populations it is allegedly serving and protecting ultimately decreases the ability of local law enforcement to work effectively, contributing to a mistrust of law enforcement.

Data has repeatedly shown that a majority of those detained by ICE were never convicted of a serious crime-such data clearly reveals that one of the program's main claims, of removing those who "pose a threat to public safety," is, in fact, a farce. Most concerning, however, is the blatant disregard for one of our country's most cherished values: our system of due process. Secure Communities contributes to legalized racial profiling and it must be abolished.

I was an early supporter of President Barack Obama, and now, as we are beginning to organize for his reelection, these recent developments undermine our efforts, especially in these affected communities where there was early support. The actions exercised under Secure Communities are misguided, irresponsible, and antithetical to the American spirit.

The majority of immigrants in our community, this state and this country are hard working, law-abiding citizens who make substantial contributions to our society. Addressing the unjustifiable treatment of those victimized by Secure Communities is a moral imperative that cannot be ignored. Focusing on and developing methods for bringing immigrants out of the shadows helps secure communities. That is why I worked closely with advocates in drafting and sponsoring legislation in the New York State Senate (S. 4179) to help achieve this goal.

The legislation, commonly referred to the New York DREAM Act, allows undocumented young adults who entered the country before the age of 16 and have demonstrated a commitment to education, public service and good moral character to have access to financial aid, employment opportunities and health insurance coverage within the state. Securing the liberties and rights of the immigrants in our community instead of violating their rights will lead to securer communities.

Allowing the unfair, subjective and morally reprehensible program of Secure Communities to continue is a direct affront to our American values and the spirit with which our nation was founded.