S-Comm and Our Broken Immigration
Director, Jewish Community Relations Council
Secure Communities, or S-Comm, is a partnership between federal and local law enforcement, where people who have been arrested have their fingerprints taken and sent to the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to check their immigration status and criminal record. On paper, S-Comm purports to remove terrorists and dangerous criminals from the US. In practice, it casts its net far too wide, wasting scarce resources on the detention and deportation of low priority, non-violent offenders, guilty of only minor civil infractions, if any. The Jewish Community Relations Council went on record against the Secure Communities program, with testimony at the New Haven Board of Aldermen hearing at the end of December.
What’s worse, S-Comm encourages racial profiling as police officers motivated to identify undocumented immigrants, or harboring prejudice against Latinos or other persons of color, find a pretext to make an arrest. In jurisdictions where S-Comm is in effect, the practice of stopping Latinos for minor traffic offenses — or for no reason at all — has escalated. If an immigration infraction is discovered through the federal database, individuals may be detained for up to 48 hours until ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) takes them into federal custody and begins deportation proceedings.
The result has been serious civil rights and due process violations, not to mention damage to the trust between immigrant communities and local police. In New Haven, that trust is a precious commodity that took years to establish through innovations such as community policing and the residence ID card. The cost in terms of human suffering is also substantial, as families are torn apart. Further, the incarceration and deportation of the main wage-earner often leaves those left behind impoverished. Secure Communities actually makes communities less safe, because crimes go unreported when individuals live in fear of their local police whom they have come to regard as immigration agents. S-Comm is just another example of our broken immigration system.
Five years ago, JCRC came out strongly for comprehensive immigration reform to establish a fair and equitable pathway to citizenship for most of the undocumented, with reasonable penalties for violating US law. Reform would make family reunification a priority, ending the prolonged separation of family members, and establish reasonable and consistent security standards for those wishing to enter our country and those already here.
In the absence of a complete overhaul, so long overdue, the federal government is making stopgap efforts at enforcement, while drug and weapons trafficking continues, human trafficking persists, and 12 million undocumented immigrants remain in limbo. States are enacting a checkerboard of inconsistent rules and standards, from in-state tuition for students with illegal status, to law enforcement, to requirements of employers, elementary schools, and social service agencies.
What this means for the many constituencies of Greater New Haven, including the Jewish community, will be the subject of a citywide educational forum entitled, "The Immigration Dilemma: Path to Citizenship or Road to Deportation?" It is sponsored by the JCRC and chaired by JCRC’s Immigration committee co-chairs Angel Fernandez-Chavero and Lindy Lee Gold.