Politicians and immigration advocates gathered on the steps of City Hall Monday to demand that the Department of Homeland Security halt the activation of a contentious immigration program known as Secure Communities, which goes into effect in New York City on Tuesday.
“Secure Communities takes a dragnet approach,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. “Its implementation leads to the deportation of too many immigrants who pose no public safety threat to the City or State of New York or to our country at all.”
The program has already been in effect in 31 counties, including Nassau, Dutchess and Westchester. On Tuesday, the rest of the state, including New York City, will become a part of the program.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on Tuesday that the city would follow federal law on this issue.
"We are a country of laws. You can’t just decide which laws you’re going to enforce and which ones you’re not. If the federal government has a law and you don’t like it, change the law,” Bloomberg said. “We will provide any data in the form required by the law. We are not above the law.”
Under Secure Communities, when local law enforcement agencies submit fingerprints to the FBI for routine criminal history checks, the prints will be shared with DHS, so that the Immigration and Customs Agency, ICE, can determine if an arrested individual is subject to deportation.
Governor Andrew Cuomo attempted to withdraw the state from the Secure Communities program last June, noting that it failed to meet its stated goal to “deport serious felons.”
But FBI and ICE, officials immediately said that New York counties, which had become a part of the Secure Communities program, could not terminate their participation, because it is essentially an information-sharing program between two federal agencies: the FBI and DHS.
“Secure Communities has proven to be the single most valuable tool in allowing the agency to eliminate the ad hoc approach of the past and focus on criminal aliens and repeat immigration law violators,” an ICE spokesman said in a statement issued last week.
Responding to criticism of the program, ICE has introduced changes to Secure Communities, including taking into custody individuals arrested solely for minor traffic violations if they are convicted and a new policy designed to protect witnesses or victims of domestic violence or other violent crimes.
According to ICE, Secure Communities has helped remove over 135,000 convicted criminal aliens, including more than 49,000 convicted of major violent offenses like murder, rape and the sexual abuse of children.
From January 2011 through March 2012, ICE said it deported 816 people from New York’s 31 counties, including 475 criminal aliens. About 17 percent of those removed were what the agency classifies as Level 1 offenders ― that means they were convicted of aggravated felonies such as murder, rape and the sexual abuse of children.
Speaker Quinn said on Monday that the numbers for the most serious convictions were too low, and that individuals with no criminal record and low-level offenders were getting caught up in the program. Advocates also argue the program can lead to ethnic and racial profiling and erode the relationship between the police and immigrant communities.
According to Quinn, the City Council would be “drafting legislation to establish parameters on the NYPD’s interaction with ICE.”
A spokesman for the Governor’s office said they were monitoring the developments around the program.
Secure Communities has been activated in 2,792 jurisdictions in 49 states and territories so far.