The federal government on Friday announced it was rescinding memorandums of agreement with 39 states, including Texas, that participate in the Secure Communities program.
The decision, announced by the Department of Homeland Security, does not end the controversial policy, though. Instead, it is meant to make clear that the initiative is a federal issue and that state agreements are not needed for its continuation or expansion.
“Secure Communities is based on federal law and federal information sharing,” John Sandweg, counsel to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, said in a conference call. “As a result of those laws, an MOA was never necessary to operate the program. Unfortunately we created a lot of confusion.” Sandweg added that the program will be in place nationally by 2013.
The program, administered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, compares the fingerprints of people police arrest to a federal database to determine if the individuals are eligible for deportation under federal immigration laws. It’s been shrouded in controversy, as immigrants’ rights activists say it casts too wide a net and deports immigrants accused of only minor crimes — or in some cases no crimes at all — and not just the criminal aliens that are the target of the program.
Gov. Rick Perry’s office confirmed it received a copy of the DHS letter. The program is in place in every Texas county.
At least four states — California, Massachusetts, Illinois and New York — have opted out or are considering opting out of the program. Advocacy groups are interpreting Friday’s action as an aim to block those efforts. The program has drawn the ire of immigrant communities already enraged over what they say is the White House’s lack of commitment to address immigration reform. While some state governments had taken the agreements to mean that Secure Communities was a voluntary program, advocates said the DHS decision means it is now a requirement.
“Today’s announcement shows that ICE also systematically misled the states, engaging in protracted negotiations — at substantial cost to the American public — for what it now claims are sham contracts," Chris Newman, the legal director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said in a statement.
But Sandweg reminded callers that ICE announced in June that Secure Communities was undergoing a thorough review aimed at addressing concerns about the program. Advocates are reluctant to cheer the review process, saying proposed reforms are little more than window dressing.
Last month, a federal judge ruled the government must release documents pertaining to the program it had originally kept secret.
“There is ample evidence that ICE and DHS have gone out of their way to mislead the public about Secure Communities," U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled.
On Tuesday, in Dallas, a Secure Communities task force created to address some of the public’s concerns will have its first hearing. The task force was one of the recommendations from in the review.