Secure Communities and ICE’s Counting Problems

The federal agency's reporting problems offer scary consequences for immigrants.

By Julianne Hing Jan 21, 2011

Ask one ICE official and Secure Communities has allowed the country to deport "more than 59,000" immigrants. Ask another and the program has led to the deportation of "nearly 51,000." The program allows ICE to peer into the databases of anyone who’s booked for anything, whether or not the initial reason for their detainment or arrest results in a conviction. Currently there are 36 states and counting who participate in the program.

Dara Lind over at TAPPED looks into the scarier side behind ICE’s inconsistent numbers.

ICE’s failure to count is also a massive unforced political error for the Obama administration. Its stated policy goal is to target criminals, but no one is persuaded that it’s actually doing it: neither progressives who point to the 800,000 deportations nor conservatives who pretend they don’t exist. (The latter group includes ICE field agents, who are in open revolt.) Watchdog and community groups are natural allies in helping ensure that ICE actually does what it’s theoretically trying to do — and might stop organizing against President Obama and start defending him if it did.

But it’s impossible to trust ICE right now. It’s impossible to trust that its agents will do what the leadership tells them to do. It’s impossible to discount the persistent rumors of annual deportation quotas — multiple outlets have reported that ICE wants to deport 404,000 people, but I haven’t seen an official source. A lot of things will need to change if the administration wants to persuade Latinos and progressives to trust it on immigration enforcement. It can start by teaching ICE how to count.

The agency’s shady history of offering immigrant detainees expedited deportation proceedings to bump its own numbers to reach deportation quotas, that the Department of Homeland Security went to great lengths to conceal the existence of, is among the other reasons to be wary about ICE’s own accounting.

But talk to Obama administration officials and many sound plenty proud with Secure Communities’ ability to help ICE deport hardened criminals. (If only most or even many of those deported under the program were hardened criminals.) Department of Homeland Security Sec. Janet Napolitano touts those deportation numbers wherever she goes, even when stumping for legalization bills like the DREAM Act.