Hope for some Jamaicans facing deportation from US
- Task force says deportation programme sows distrust
A task force advising the Obama administration on a programme aimed at deporting "the worst of the worst" immigrant felons, has sharply criticised the United States immigration authorities for creating confusion about its purpose and sowing seeds of distrust.
The task force has also found that the programme has an "unintended negative impact" on public safety in local communities.
In a report on the initiative, dubbed 'Secure Communities', the task force said the programme has eroded public trust by leading to the detention of many Caribbean and other immigrants who had not committed serious crimes, after officials said its aim was to remove "the worst of the worst" immigrant criminals from the United States.
In addition, the report said immigration officials have created tensions with local authorities by making inconsistent statements on whether states and cities were required to participate.
In the most significant of its recommendations, the task force said fingerprint identifications through the programme should no longer lead federal agents to deport Caribbean and other immigrants arrested by local police officers for minor traffic violations.
The task force, which included law enforcement chiefs from four major cities, as well as immigrant advocates and state homeland security officials, urged Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency that operates the programme, to start over to reintroduce it in many places where local opposition has swelled.
The report added to the controversy surrounding the Secure Communities programme, a centrepiece of the Obama administration's efforts to curb illegal immigration by deporting as many as 400,000 foreigners a year.
ICE director John Morton named the task force in June to channel and address resistance from state officials, local police chiefs and immigrant organisations.
But, in the final hours of work on the report, new dissension arose in the task force. Five of its 19 members, including all three who represented trade unions, resigned last week, rather than endorse the final report.
The report shows that divisions persisted among the remaining members of the diverse group.
Some thought the programme was too deeply flawed to continue. Others, especially the police officials, argued that information-sharing among law enforcement agencies under the programme was too vital to halt.
Under Secure Communities, fingerprints collected from anyone arrested by local or state police are checked against FBI criminal databases as a routine police procedure.
The fingerprints are also run through the US Department of Homeland Security databases which record immigration violations.
After initiating the programme in 2008, ICE extended it across about half of the country, recently to growing outcry.
The task force's chairman, Chuck Wexler, who also heads the Police Executive Research Forum, said there was a "strong consensus" in the group that Secure Communities should focus on deporting serious and violent felons.
But many local police officials told the task force that the programme has eroded trust between them and immigrant communities by leaving the impression that they were doing the federal government's work for it by enforcing US immigration laws.
Reluctant to report crimes
Since then, some communities have become reluctant to report crimes, they said.
"You can't mix in low-level offenders and not lose credibility in the communities," Wexler said.
In four public hearings, the task force learned of many cases of illegal Caribbean and other immigrants swept into deportation after being stopped by the police for minor traffic offences or, in some cases, for no offence at all - all of them were flagged by a Secure Communities check.
"To the extent that Secure Communities may damage commu-nity policing," the task force report found, "the result can be greater levels of crime".
The task force said immigration officials also made confusing statements about the legal authorities underpinning the programme.
The task force said the immigration agency should make broader and far more systematic use of prosecutorial discretion to concentrate its resources on deporting convicted criminals.