Six years ago, the federal government implemented an immigration enforcement program that was meant to improve public safety by prioritizing the deportation of immigrants with criminal convictions. But a new study concludes that the program has led to no meaningful reductions in crime.
The study set to publish in November finds that Secure Communities, which was formally started in 2008, had no effect on the overall rate of crime nor did it reduce the rates of violent crimes, such as murder, rape, arson or aggravated assault. The only crimes for which there were modest declines due to the detention of immigrants under Secure Communities were in two categories of property crime: burglary and mother vehicle theft.
The finding that Secure Communities does not reduce rates of violent crime or the overall rate of FBI index crime calls into question the longstanding assumption that deporting noncitizens who commit crimes is an effective crime control strategy, the study concludes.
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Conducted by two law professors at the University of Chicago and New York University, the study also explains that Secure Communities was designed to allow the federal government to screen every person for immigration violations when arrested for a crime by local law enforcement anywhere in the country.
Through the program, local police officers send fingerprints they obtain from individuals to the Department of Homeland Security to check against its immigration databases.
If the databases reveal that an individual is not authorized to be in the country, federal immigration officials take enforcement action and prioritize the removal of those who present the most significant threat to public safety as determined by the severity of their crime.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson suggested earlier this year that he might make major changes to Secure Communities, saying the program needs a fresh start. This comes amid concerns from immigration advocates who argue the program leads to racial profiling and damages the trust between local law enforcement and the immigrant community.
Advocates have also argued that many of the immigrants whove been identified and deported through Secure Communities are not serious or violent criminals, nor do they pose a threat to public safety or have a criminal history.
Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), is one of the immigration advocates who have long criticized Secure Communities. He said on Wednesday that the new study provides more evidence that this duplicitous program needs to end.
Secure Communities has been a catastrophic failure, he said. Not only does it fail to succeed on its own terms, as this study makes abundantly clear, there is evidence that it undermines public safety.
In an interview with The New York Times, officials with Immigration and Customs and Enforcement (ICE) defended the Secures Communities program. They said the program had helped lead to the deportation of more than 288,000 convicted criminals between October 2008 and May 2014. This included the deportation of more than 113,000 immigrants convicted of major violent offenses, including murder, rape and the sexual abuse of children.
Secure Communities, by leaps and bounds, has allowed us to get the most egregious violators of our local statutes out of our communities and remove them from the country, a senior agency official who was not authorized to speak on the record told The New York Times.
Still, the authors of the study conclude that Secure Communities has had no impact on the overall rate of crime and that the program has not served its central objective of making communities safer. The study is scheduled to publish in the November issue of The Journal of Law and Economics.