Opinion: Immigration: Illinois backs out of controversial program intended to deport dangerous immigrants


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Homeland Security Department officials got some bad news Wednesday when Illinois officials announced they are dropping out of Secure Communities, a controversial program created in 2008 to track and deport dangerous criminals.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said he had decided to terminate the state’s agreement with the department because of concern that the program wasn’t meeting its stated goal of going after dangerous immigrants with serious criminal convictions. Instead, he said, more than 30% of those caught and deported in Illinois under Secure Communities had never been convicted of a crime.


Secure Communities allows state and local police to check the immigration status of people who were arrested and booked in local jails by matching fingerprints against federal databases for criminal convictions and deportation orders.

Under federal law, being in the U.S. without a visa or permit is not a criminal offense but a civil violation.

Like Quinn, local officials have repeatedly sought to opt out of participating in Secure Communities only to learn they can’t.

In California, several counties, including San Francisco and Santa Clara, attempted to opt out of the program only to be told they couldn’t.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) is sponsoring a bill that would require California to modify its agreement with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a division of the Homeland Security Department, so that only fingerprints of convicted felons are run through the immigration database. The bill also contains protections for domestic-violence victims and juveniles and would make the program optional for counties.

Homeland Security Department officials appear to be scrambling to prevent more problems. Officials have ordered a review of data for signs of racial profiling and to search for ways to ensure the program targets immigrants with criminal convictions. But that may not be enough. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) are asking for a probe into whether ICE intentionally misled the public and local authorities to get them to enlist in Secure Communities.


It seems that the Homeland Security Department has a knack for rolling out programs that promise to go after dangerous criminal immigrants and fail to deliver.

In 2009, the agency revamped another controversial program that was designed to go after illegal immigrants with outstanding deportation orders when it was revealed many of the individuals detained were under no prior order to leave the country.


Will state attorney general support limiting Secure Communities?

Review of jail fingerprint-sharing program underway

-- Alexandra Le Tellier