Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Wednesday that New York State will suspend participation in Secure Communities because of concerns over the controversial federal program through which the fingerprints of anyone arrested are shared with immigration authorities.
"There are concerns about the implementation of the program as well as its impact on families, immigrant communities and law enforcement in New York," Cuomo said in a statement, noting the program failed to meet its stated goal to "deport serious felons."
The program has come under criticism due the deportations of immigrants who had not been convicted of a crime or had committed a low-level offense.
In states where the Secure Communities program is in effect, the fingerprints of everyone arrested and booked are checked against FBI criminal history records and the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration records. ICE then decides if immigration enforcement action is required for a foreign-born individual.
In New York, 31 counties have been participating in the program since January. Forty-five aliens were removed in that period, according to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Eighty percent of those removed had not been convicted of a crime.
According to ICE, the Secure Communities program has been critical in focusing limited resources on people in the country illegally who have also broken criminal laws. Nationally, more than 77,000 criminal aliens have been removed since the programs began in October 2008.
More than 28,000 of those were convicted of aggravated felonies such as murder, rape, kidnapping and the sexual abuse of children, according to ICE’s spokeswoman Nicole Navas. She added that the agency is analyzing the effectiveness of the program and will share the results with New York.
A number of state and local politicians and immigration advocates have lobbied the governor to rescind the agreement that the Paterson administration signed in 2010, and argued that the sharing of the fingerprints with the immigration authorities would make immigrants fearful and unwilling to report crimes when they witness them or are victims themselves.
"We are completely thrilled," said Michelle Fei, co-director of Immigrant Defense Project, of the governor's decision. "This is the only right solution for New York. We are very relieved and really thankful."
New York is the second state to opt out of the program, following in the footsteps of Illinois, which made the same decision last month. Officials said this will have national ramifications.
"The federal government needs to go back to the drawing board," said state Senator Gustavo Rivera. "If it wants to create a program that seeks to identify and to deport dangerous criminals, then let's create a program that actually does that."
It remains unclear, though, what this decision will mean for counties that have already become a part of the program. According to ICE’s previous statements, Secure Communities will be activated in all jurisdictions by 2013 and there would be no opting out for those that became a part of the program.
Some officials expressed displeasure at the governor’s decision. Councilman Peter Vallone, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said he didn't see any reason for New York to leave the program.
"I think the public expects that illegal aliens who commit another crime are deported," he said. "I think they're probably surprised to know that there's even a debate about this."
Others, however, applauded the governor's decision.
"Governor Cuomo has shown great vision and courage," Congressman Jose Serrano said in an interview with WNYC. "For New York to still be saying that we don't go around bashing immigrants, that we don't go around deporting people who don't deserve to be deported, that still speaks not only about the issue but about who New York is, who we are as New Yorkers."