Reporting on Friday’s announcement by ICE of alterations to the implementation of Secure Communities, the New York Times comes up short in a number of areas.
One of the most contentious elements of the program, which was not noted by the NYT, has been the “opt-out” procedure. Local law enforcement has been encouraged to join the voluntary program with the assurance that they can “opt-out” if they find the program problematic. As many police officials and legislators have noted since, the opt out procedures are so ill-defined and impossible to access as to be functionally absent–communities have not been able to opt out as they were promised. As various police officials have already noted, S-Comm has been a disaster for community law enforcement. Revolts by such states as New York and Illinois and California, where a bill is now advancing through the Senate that allows local law enforcement to ignore S-Comm commitments, have prompted ICE and Homeland Security to come up with this fig leaf as they try to create an S-Comm national blanket by 2013.
The NYT has only glancing reporting on the wide-ranging systematic problems caused by S-Comm, focusing on individual immigration and detention issues, such as the deportation of those arrested for misdemeanors. As noted, however, one of the biggest issues for local police forces has been the difficulty in policing immigrant communities where fear of deportation has grown to staggering proportions, driving away potential witnesses and insuring that those who are undocumented or have undocumented family members avoid police in domestic abuse issues. S-Comm threatens not just those arrested for minor violations, it threatens their families, witnesses and their families and the families of crime victims. With many mixed families and many bureaucratic failures at ICE, this is not just an issue for undocumented immigrants, but for American communities.
More importantly, the NYT article virtually ignored the vehement rejection by immigrant, legal and constitutional advocates of the improvements as cosmetic and superficial. A pair of meager sentences is reserved for the end of the article, voicing opposition to the changes and the program itself. But a diverse and large coalition of groups, including the Center for Constitutional Rights and Detention Watch Network call the program fundamentally flawed and impossible to “fix”. One of their biggest criticisms, and one that should resonate in the civil libertarian community, is the large bio-metric data collecting infrastructure created by ICE. Various groups in the coalition have uncovered substantial constitutional issues through Freedom of Information Act requests that should be of concern to all Americans, not just immigrants. Of course, one of the biggest problems of the “fix”, is that nearly all of the ostensible changes are triggered by ongoing instruction by John Morton, the director of ICE.
You can read the coalition’s press release here.
Note: Sunday’s NYT had a critical take on the upgrade, noting that the program would be better scrapped than fixed. Credit to the times editorial board for that.