Last week the director of Secure Communities tried to put an end to the debate over whether or not the controversial program is mandatory.
“At this point the position of the administration is that local communities will not be able to opt-out of Secure Communities,” said David Venturella, while speaking to a room packed with immigrant advocates at the Wilson Center.
But advocates were not ready to give up.
“Why not have an approach where local jurisdictions can choose to opt-out?” asked Margaret Huang, executive director of the Rights Working Group. She was one of several people in the audience who asked similar questions.
Other attendees disputed Venturella’s claim that the program would allow ICE to do its job of targeting “criminal aliens” for deportation in the name of public safety.
“I think we all know at this point that many ‘criminal aliens’ aren’t really criminals,” said fellow panelist Don Kerwin, Vice President for Programs, Migration Policy Institute. “And we know that some of the ‘aliens’ aren’t unauthorized. Some of them are lawful permanent residents.
Data provided by ICE shows that at least a quarter of immigrants deported as a result of Secure Communities have no criminal record. Others have low-level and non-violent offenses that put their legal status in jeopardy.
Several attendees pointed to the federal government’s failure to pass immigration reform as a greater threat to public safety and called for more attention to a bigger picture approach.
“Enforcement is not the answer,” said Manuel Vásquez, associate professor of Religion at the University of Florida. “It is perhaps a willful failure to understand the full reality of the situation.”
At one point, the Secure Communities director seemed to concede there may be some wiggle room for counties who wish to have more input on how Secure Communities operates.
“There is no opting-out to sending fingerprints to the FBI unless local policy restricts which ones they give,” said Venturella.
But local officials have said they don’t want the responsibility of filtering prints.
“Really I think the clearest technological solution is for the federal government to just turn off interoperability and to stop running immigration queries on fingerprints from counties that have refused to participate in the program,” said Anjali Bhargava, Deputy Counsel for Santa Clara County, CA, told Deportation Nation last month.
Santa Clara County is one of three counties that spent months corresponding with ICE officials and then drafting legislation – that was approved unanimously – to opt-out of Secure Communities. But along with San Fransisco County, CA, and Arlington, VA, it was told by Venturella last month that ICE was not willing to screen out the county’s arrest data.
Here is a video clip of part of Venturella’s comments during the meeting, recorded by Deportation Nation’s Stokely Baksh.