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From Long Island Wins

Suspending Secure Communities, Cuomo Moves in the Right Direction

All Long Islanders want dangerous criminals off our streets.

So the catchily-named Secure Communities immigration enforcement program, purportedly designed to go after serious criminal offenders, seems simple at first glance.

It’s a federal program that takes the fingerprints of anyone who is arrested and automatically checks those prints against a national immigration database. If immigration officials have questions about a person’s immigration status, that person can be detained by local authorities and eventually placed in deportation proceedings.

The program was framed to state politicians as a plan to primarily target “aliens convicted of a serious criminal offense” – people who had committed murders, rapes, and robberies. A valuable mission, obviously. But the catch is that it’s not working that way. Not in New York, not anywhere.

For example, from January 1 to March 31, more than 80 percent of the people deported through the program in New York State had never been convicted of any crime. None.

Looking at the national data, you see similar trends: From October 2008 to June 2010, 79 percent of those deported through Secure Communities were either non-criminals or low-level offenders.

Since its inception, officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been criticized for deceiving municipalities about Secure Communities, falsifying the mission of the program and making it unclear whether cities or counties can opt out.

Long Islanders are particularly aware of ICE’s penchant for playing fast and loose with the truth. Just a few years ago, Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi and Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey withdrew the county’s support from ICE raids on local homes when they learned that unprepared federal agents were breaking into homes without reliable intelligence or arrest warrants, and, in some instances, even drawing their guns on Nassau police officers.

Driven by the well-documented problems with Secure Communities, immigrant rights activists have been pressuring Gov. Andrew Cuomo to rescind New York State’s participation in the program. Earlier this month, he made a move in that direction by suspending it indefinitely.

Cuomo isn’t alone in this good decision: Illinois terminated its agreement with Secure Communities in May, and, on the heels of the suspension of the program in New York, Massachusetts decided not to participate. California may be next.

Federal officials – under any administration – seem to be fond of enforcement techniques that sound like tough common sense, but don’t actually stand up to scrutiny. In our book, that counts as one more reason that we should finally fix our broken immigration system, and replace this enforcement shell game with giving immigrants the opportunity to earn a path to citizenship.

Maryann Sinclair Slutsky is the campaign director of Long Island Wins, a campaign promoting policy solutions to local immigration issues. Visit their website at www.LongIslandWins.com