Task Force Advises Obama That Deportation Program Has ‘Negative Impact’ On Public Safety

As the Obama administration nears its 1 millionth deportation, a task force advising the president is sharply criticizing immigration officials and a U.S. deportation program they say has an “unintended negative impact” on public safety in local communities. The New York Times reports today on the task force’s findings, which were completed yesterday:

In a report on the program, known as Secure Communities, the task force said that the program had eroded public trust by leading to the detention of many immigrants who had not committed serious crimes, after officials said its aim was to remove “the worst of the worst” immigrant criminals from the United States. […]

The report also said that immigration officials had created tensions with local authorities by making inconsistent statements on whether states and cities were required to participate.

In the most significant of its recommendations, the task force said that fingerprint identifications through the program should no longer lead federal agents to deport immigrants arrested by local police officers for minor traffic violations.

The task force was made up of a diverse group of immigrant advocates, homeland security officials, and law enforcement chiefs from major cities. The group’s findings will certainly fan the controversy already surrounding the Secure Communities program, which is “a centerpiece of the Obama administration’s efforts to curb illegal immigration by deporting as many as 400,000 foreigners a year.”

The program has extended across half the country and some complain it has turned local law enforcement into federal immigration officers. Local police officials have testified that it has eroded the trust between them and immigrant communities, and made people less likely to report crimes. During public hearings the task force learned of many cases of undocumented immigrants that stopped by the police for minor traffic offenses, or for no offense at all, who were swept into deportation after being flagged by a Secure Communities check.

The task force found itself sharply divided over their recommendations for the future of the program, with several members saying it was so deeply flawed that it should be shut down entirely. Dissension grew so strong in the final hours of work on the report that five of the 19 members resigned rather than endorse the final product, which it felt did not rebuke the program strongly enough. Nevertheless, task force chairman Chuck Wexler said there was “strong consensus” in the group that Secure Communities should focus on deporting serious and violent felons.

Between January 2009 and July 2011, the Obama administration deported 982,548 undocumented immigrants. However, last month the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would suspend deportation proceedings against many undocumented immigrants who pose no threat to national security or public safety.