"Secure Communities" Should be Ended, not Extended; Vigil Planned May 15

Shortly after federal authorities announced that the “Secure Communities” program was in effect in New Hampshire, advocates for immigrants said it should be ended on grounds that it promotes racial profiling, breeds distrust between police and immigrant communities, and divides families.

Although Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have said the program’s purpose is to deport “the most dangerous and violent offenders” and “threats to national security,” the record says otherwise, according to Eva Castillo of the NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees.

Under the Secure Communities program, digital fingerprints sent to the FBI when anyone is charged with a crime get transmitted as well to federal immigration authorities.  If officials at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) believe the accused has an immigration problem, they can issue a “detainer” notice to the town, city, or county that is holding them.  

“By running checks on everyone who is booked on criminal charges, even if they are innocent, S-Comm’s effect is to break up families and make our communities insecure,” Castillo said.  “More than half of all S-Comm deportees are immigrants who have committed no major crimes or no crimes at all,” she said.

“Secure Communities should be ended, not extended,” Castillo added.

“Despite a stated policy of ‘prosecutorial discretion,’ in which ICE places its priority on deportation of serious criminals, one hundred of my Indonesian friends are under deportation orders for overstaying their visas while legally seeking asylum from religious persecution,” said Nancy Pape, chair of the Immigration Committee of the United Church of Christ New Hampshire Conference.  “We do not trust ICE to behave responsibly.” 

“Protection of public safety in our communities requires trust between local police and immigrant communities,” said Castillo, who serves as a member of Manchester’s Police Commission.  “By forcing local police to share data with ICE, this new order threatens to unravel progress we have made in several New Hampshire communities.”

ICE declared that Secure Communities was in effect in New Hampshire on May 8 and that on May 15 it would go into effect in Massachusetts despite the opposition of Governor Deval Patrick. 

"In one day, ICE has taken all the trust that the New Hampshire local and state police have invested toward the community and turned it upside down,” said Enrique Mesa, a Manchester immigration attorney. “ICE's target is much broader than individuals with serious criminal convictions.  That’s where I have a problem."

“Secure Communities is an Orwellian misnomer,” said Maggie Fogarty of the American Friends Service Committee, who noted that the program has not caught a single “threat to national security” since it began nationally in 2008. 

“Communities will not be more secure or any safer with ‘Secure Communities,’” Fogarty added.  “Rather it will further demonize an already marginalized immigrant community and cause emotional and economic hardship.”

Castillo pointed out that a bill that would have required immigration checks on everyone detained or arrested by local police was soundly rejected by the NH House of Representatives earlier this year.  HB 1494 was recommended “inexpedient to legislate” by a 14-1 vote of the Criminal Justice Committee and defeated by the conservative House on a voice vote. 

“New Hampshire did not ask for S-Comm and does not need S-Comm,” she added.  “If anyone is looking for an example of a flawed federal program, here it is.”   

The advocates are calling on President Obama to end the Secure Communities program.

The NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees and the American Friends Service Committee will hold a vigil outside the Federal Building at 275 Chestnut Street in Manchester at 6 PM on Tuesday, May 15.