For nearly three years, the Obama administration has advertised the Secure Communities program as a targeted enforcement tool that identifies "dangerous criminal aliens" for deportation. Over and over, federal officials have insisted that the program's focus would be chiefly limited to those immigrants whose criminal convictions show that they pose a danger to public safety.
But that's not the case. In practice, Secure Communities is a dragnet that fails to distinguish between felons convicted of serious crimes and nonviolent arrestees facing civil immigration violations. In California alone, more than half of the 75,000 people deported under the program since it began in 2009 had no criminal history or had only misdemeanor convictions.
Under the program, local law enforcement agencies are required to send the fingerprints of everyone booked into local jails to the FBI, which checks them against criminal databases. Department of Homeland Security officials then check the prints against immigration records and issue requests, known as "detainers," to local authorities asking them to hold particular individuals for 48 hours. As a result, immigrants arrested for illegal street vending or driving without a license who would ordinarily be released have to sit in jail for two days. After that, they are either transferred to federal custody or released, although some end up in jail for longer.