CREDIT: Esther Y. Lee
A forthcoming report in the Journal of Law and Economics concluded what immigration advocates have charged for the past six years: the federal immigration enforcement program known as Secure Communities, which seeks to flush out criminal immigrants, does not lower the crime rate. In fact, the study authors found that the program targeted Latino communities and that the program “did not cause a meaningful reduction” in the overall crime rate or in rates of violent crimes. Given that the program has “long been publicly justified primarily on grounds that they keep communities safer from violent crime,” the finding counters the program as an effective crime control strategy.
Since Secure Communities’ inception in 2008, about 97 percent of all the counties in the United States have mobilized local immigration enforcement to share all arrested immigrants’ fingerprints with the Department of Homeland Security, regardless of the nature of the offense or whether that immigrant was ultimately convicted. DHS can then issue a detainer asking local enforcement officials to hold the immigrant until federal officials can take them into custody. Those immigrants could then be placed in deportation proceedings. The intention of the program is to prioritize individuals charged with serious crimes, but in practice, immigrants who have committed minor offenses are swept up in the deportation pipeline.
Analyzing data culled from more than 3,000 U.S. counties, study authors Professors Adam Cox and Thomas Miles found that there was no empirical evidence that Secure Communities reduced the rate of serious crimes. The authors found that that the only area in which there might be “suggestive evidence of a small reduction… were the less serious property crimes burglary and perhaps motor vehicle theft.” Between 2008 and mid-2013, 29 percent of the immigrants deported had committed serious Level 1 offenses.
In an interview with the New York Times, a senior agency official defended the efficacy of the program, stating that the program likely prevented more than 100,000 immigrants from committing another crime and that “Secure Communities, by leaps and bounds, has allowed us to get the most egregious violators of our local statutes out of our communities and remove them from the country.”
Previous research has found some immigrants may be less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. The program also has the adverse effect of deterring many Latinos from reporting crimes because of fear that their own immigration status would be investigated. A 2013 survey of more than 2,000 Latinos found that more than four in ten Latinos are less likely to report crime and 45 percent are less likely to volunteer information about crimes. when local police are involved in enforcing immigration law. The effort to improve public safety has effectively swept up people like Isaac Lugo’s father who was nabbed for having “invisible” license plate tags and tinted windows, Jersey Vargas’ father who was arrested for driving under the influence and put into deportation proceedings even after serving out a six-month prison sentence, and Noe Parra Manrique, who faces deportation after a police flagged him for missing a screw in his license plate.
Some states and numerous localities passed legislation that ends participation in Secure Communities and blocks police from holding most detainees at Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) request without judicial review. That legislation known as the Trust Act is meant to encourage immigrant cooperation with police and slow down deportation. The law was passed in California, Connecticut, and cities like Boston. Other localities have stopped short of passing the Trust Act, but have taken up similar resolutions that urge local law enforcement officials to stop telling ICE when an suspected unlawful immigrant has been detained unless ICE agents have a criminal warrant or legitimate purpose unrelated to the enforcement of immigration law. Fulton County, Georgia became the latest to pass such a resolution Wednesday.