A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] on Monday ordered [text, PDF] the federal government to release a memorandum concerning the Secure Communities Program [materials], a controversial immigration [JURIST news archive] program that forces the release of local law enforcement information on detainees to the federal government. The memorandum allegedly contains the reasoning behind forcing the program to be mandatory [AP report] for all states rather than opt-in. That decision, in October 2010, was spurred by more than 500 rights groups calling on President Barack Obama to dismantle the program [JURIST report] and several states ending their involvement in Secure Communities. Last week, the Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy [academic website] released a report [text, PDF] proclaiming that Secure Communities has often caught legal citizens in its net, that Latinos are disproportionately targeted and that non-violent offenders are often pursued despite the stated goals of the program. The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) [official websites] also announced last week that 396,906 illegal immigrants were deported in 2011 [JURIST report], the largest number in the agencies' history. The report indicated that more than half of the deportees were convicted criminals. The government must release the Secured Communities memorandum by November 1.
The Secure Communities Program, as well as other aspects of the US immigration detention policy, have been heavily criticized by constitutional and immigration rights groups. Last month, the US Department of Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) [official website] approved a report responding to concerns with the program. The report stated that there was strong agreement among the committee members that ICE should continue taking enforcement action against serious criminal offenders who are subject to deportation, but that ICE enforcement policy surrounding removal of minor offenders or those who have never been convicted of a crime continues causing confusion. In June, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) [advocacy website] and a coalition of other rights groups rejected [JURIST report] the changes announced by ICE to the program. The groups claimed Secure Communities undermines public safety, invites racial profiling and pulls non-citizens into what they call a "dangerous" system of detention and deportation. In March, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) [official website] released a report [JURIST report] arguing that US immigration enforcement agencies are overly reliant on a flawed detention system. The IACHR investigated six immigrant detention centers based throughout Arizona and Texas. The report expressed concern over increased use of detention by the US government, citing a doubling in detention of non-citizens by ICE. It criticized the US government for viewing detention as a necessity and not as an exception in its enforcement. IACHR also found the average 30 day detentions troubling, arguing that it is likely to increase as backlogs of immigration cases increase. The report also criticized the lack of a genuine civil detention system and use of disproportionately restrictive penal and punitive measures during the detention period.