A study of the Secure Communities immigration enforcement program has cast doubts on its effectiveness, doubts shared by the Frederick County sheriff and area immigrant rights advocates.
After examining millions of deportation records since the start of Secure Communities, the report released last month by the Transactional Records Access Clearing House, a data analysis group, concluded that the program has not met its stated objective of removing serious criminals who are in the country illegally.
“The data shows that some of the claims by ICE and its former director are not true, and that’s a big deal,” TRAC co-director David Burnham said. “They have been given vast powers, and it’s essential to look at them.”
Only 12 percent of deportees in fiscal 2013, some 43,000 people, had committed a serious crime, according to TRAC.
About 206,000 deportees had a criminal conviction of any type. For almost a fourth of those, 23 percent, their most serious offense was illegal entry, which is classified as a petty misdemeanor under the federal criminal code.
But the study may have mischaracterized the data and did not accurately characterize U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s priorities, the agency said through a spokeswoman.
ICE focuses its deportation efforts not only on serious criminals, but also on people who recently entered the country illegally, repeat immigration violators and immigration fugitives.
“The report is ignoring the fact that the cases could be for removal for other priorities,” spokeswoman Nicole Navas said.
About 95 percent of those deported through Secure Communities fall into one of ICE’s priority categories, according to a statement from the agency.
ICE said 79 percent of those deported have at least one criminal conviction in addition to being in the country unlawfully.
Still, Sheriff Chuck Jenkins said he had concerns about the effectiveness of the program. He believes Secure Communities is not as thorough as the 287(g) program, which provides immigration enforcement training to local law enforcement agencies, including the sheriff’s office.
Lt. Michael Cronise, director of the ICE program in Frederick, said the biggest drawback to Secure Communities is that it takes longer to look into the history and immigration status of detainees. With the 287(g) program, a local officer is trained to examine documents and conduct immigration enforcement interviews.
Jenkins believed Secure Communities could be effective if it had more support from elected officials.
“It’s only as effective as the government wants it to be,” he said.
Gov. Martin O’Malley recently announced that the Baltimore Detention Center would no longer automatically comply with the program.
A companion study from TRAC found that Maryland had one of the highest rates in the U.S. of immigration detainees with no criminal convictions, about 70 percent.
About 200 people were held at the Frederick County Adult Detention Center on immigration charges in fiscal 2012 and 2013, according to TRAC. Of those, 6 percent were convicted of serious offenses, while two out of three were never convicted of a crime at all.
The high rate of detentions has caused serious concern among the Frederick Immigration Coalition, an immigrants’ rights organization.
“You cannot arrest a couple hundred people and hope there is a criminal in there,” said Ray Garza, coalition president. “The figures bear out the fact that it is not being applied correctly. It was meant for serious criminals, but the net they cast is for everybody.”
Detaining people convicted of minor violations while ICE determines their immigration status is a violation of due process, Garza said.
The Secure Communities and 287(g) programs increase the likelihood that Hispanics will be profiled, whether they are in the country legally or not, Garza said.
He pointed to the case of Roxana Santos, a Salvadoran woman who was detained on an immigration warrant by the sheriff’s office as she was eating lunch in front of her workplace.
An appeals court determined that the deputies had violated her Fourth Amendment rights because they had no probable cause to believe she had committed a crime.
Jenkins said his agency did not engage in any profiling.
“We simply don’t do that,” he said.
Follow Kelsi Loos on Twitter: @KelsiFNP.