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'Secure Communities' Program Drives Fear

Local civil rights groups call for end to federal program

By Jordan Smith, Fri., Aug. 26, 2011

A coalition of Travis County civil rights groups are calling on the federal government to end its Secure Communities program – a law enforcement partnership with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement designed to identify and deport criminal immigrants – which has been decried as leading to the deportation of thousands of immigrants who in fact have never been in trouble with the law, many of whom were brought to the U.S. as children. On the heels of this most recent call, timed to the release of a new national report highlighting problems with the program, the Obama administration on Aug. 18 said that it would suspend deportation proceedings against many illegal immigrants who pose no threat to national security – notably, a move that might end the deportation of thousands of students who were brought to the U.S. as children by their parents and are trying to access educational opportunities.

According to the local coalition – including the ACLU of Texas, the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition, the Texas Civil Rights Project, and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, among others – Secure Communities has led to nearly 1,900 deportations in Travis County alone since its inception in 2008, many, they say, for minor infractions. "This collaboration" between local law enforcement and ICE "fundamentally makes our communities less safe by driving a wedge of fear between community members and local police," ACLU of Texas policy strategist Matt Simpson said in a press release. "Community members who believe local law enforcement are working with ICE are less likely to contact police when they are the victims or the witnesses of a crime." (That's just one of the problems cited in the national report, available online at altopolimigra.com/s-comm-shadow-report/.)

Secure Communities began in 14 jurisdictions in 2008 and has expanded to more than 1,300; the feds say they hope to have the program nationwide by 2013. How the administration's announcement regarding its new priorities might affect the program moving forward remains to be seen.

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