Letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper regarding Secure Communities Program (July 21, 2011)
July 21, 2011
The Honorable John Hickenlooper
Office of the Governor
136 State Capitol
Denver, CO 80203-1792
Dear Governor Hickenlooper:
We are writing to support your efforts to reassess the effectiveness of the Secure Communities Program in Colorado and to urge you to suspend Colorado's participation until an investigation of the program by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General is complete.
Last July, we wrote to Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. expressing our concerns about the then-proposed Memorandum of Agreement between the State of Colorado and the Department of Homeland Security to implement the Secure Communities Program. We pointed out that although the program was intended to focus on the most dangerous, convicted aliens, in areas where it was implemented it most often resulted in identifying immigrants who were charged with low-level offenses, including traffic violations. We cited statistics showing that between October 2008 and February 2009, only 7 percent of the "criminal aliens" identified by the Secure Communities Program were charged with the most serious Level 1 offenses.
We also stressed the negative effect the program would likely have on community policing. If more members of the immigrant community came to see the local police as enforcing immigration laws, the less likely they would be to report crimes and come forward as witnesses.
Based on this assessment, we asked Gov. Ritter to delay signing the Memorandum of Agreement until the full effects of the Secure Communities program in Colorado could be analyzed and assessed.
In the year since we sent our letter to Gov. Ritter, new information has come to light showing in detail the effects of the Secure Communities Program. Data released under the Freedom of Information Act shows that between October 2008 and May 2011, 26 percent of the individuals deported or removed nationally through the program were convicted of the most serious Level 1 offenses and 28 percent were non-criminals who violated immigration laws. The remaining 46 percent were convicted of lower-level offenses.
In Colorado, since the program began in February 2011, 98 individuals were deported or removed. Of these, 19 percent were convicted of the most serious Level 1 offenses and 36 percent were non-criminals who violated immigration laws. The remaining 45 percent were convicted of lower-level offenses.(1)
Both nationally and in Colorado, the number of non-criminals removed exceeds those who committed the most serious Level 1 offenses. Clearly, as currently implemented, the program is not focusing on removing the most dangerous, convicted aliens.
Concern about the focus and implementation of the program has caused governors in Illinois, Massachusetts and New York to pull out of the Secure Communities program. Policymakers in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Washington have refused to participate in the program.
In addition to focusing on those who are not the most serious criminal aliens, the program lacks accountability and transparency, according to civil rights advocates. Local law enforcement agencies do not have sufficient immigration-enforcement training to ensure that the civil rights of all those in custody are protected. In addition, the existence of a 48-hour detainer under the Secure Communities Program may limit an individual's ability to access a lawyer, fight criminal charges or get out of jail on bail. Those who believe they have been victims of an error might not be able to seek justice because there is no clear procedure to complain about errors or other problems.(2)
In May, Charles Edwards, the acting inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, announced that his office would conduct a review of the Secure Communities Program. This review will focus on the extent to which it is used to identify and remove dangerous criminal aliens, the cost of the program, its equitable use in different communities and the controversy regarding communities' ability to "opt out" of the program.(3)
Again, we applaud your willingness to take a close look at how the Secure Communities Program is operating in Colorado and to gather data on its effectiveness. We also support your desire to ensure that there is no racial profiling and that the program is implemented properly. However, we believe the evidence to date shows the design and implementation of the program to be flawed. We urge you to suspend its operation in Colorado until the inspector general's investigation is completed.
If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact us. We are willing to provide any assistance we can to help you assess the effectiveness of this program in Colorado.
Director of Policy and Research
The Bell Policy Center
1) U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, IDENT/IAFIS Interoperability Statistics, Monthly Statistics through May 31, 2011.
2) Waslin, M. (2010). The Secure Communities Program: Unanswered Questions and Continuing Concerns, Special Reports, Immigration Policy Center.
3) Letter from Charles K. Edwards, Acting Inspector General, Department of Homeland Security, to Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, May 10, 2011.