Secure Communities and Borders

Enforcing federal immigration law shouldn’t be controversial

On May 4, Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois declared his intention to withdraw his state from the federal government’s “Secure Communities” program, a crucial component of President Barack Obama’s immigration strategy. The program, initiated under President George W. Bush in 2008, requires police officers to compare the fingerprints of anyone booked in a local police station against Department of Homeland Security databases. States have begun resisting the law by claiming that it is needlessly expensive, will lead to racial profiling, and will not effectively target criminal illegal immigrants.

The problem with these protests against the Secure Communities program and other recent immigration laws—especially last year’s infamous Arizona law—is that they ask the federal government to ignore the enforcement of national law in the face of other considerations. Secure Communities is merely an attempt to stem the tide of undocumented immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border, and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano should continue to maintain her stance that the program be mandatory for all states. Enforcing federal law is not an option, and states should not be led to believe that it is so.

Secure Communities is an effective program because it engages local police officers in the immigration regulation process without overriding the federal government’s broader authority in this area. In particular, the law makes explicit what should already be assumed: Police officers should be checking up on the people they arrest, especially since those arrested are typically those who pose a threat to public safety. Opponents like the National Immigration Forum have resisted Secure Communities by claiming that it will lead to racial profiling; however, all people booked in police stations (regardless of race or ethnicity) would be subject to the fingerprint comparison, eliminating the possibility of racial profiling from the start. Some still argue that racist police officers will find a pretext for arresting Latinos and Mexican-Americans just so they can check their fingerprints; however, if this is the case, the solution lies in the nation’s racial environment rather than in the content of the law itself.

The National Immigration Forum has further suggested that the program will result in unnecessary deportations, since anyone taken into a police station will be compared with the Department of Homeland Security database—not just those who have committed serious or violent crimes. These critics are correct: The law will apply to more than just “criminal aliens.” It may catch some who have committed misdemeanors and some who have committed no crime at all but have entered the country illegally (which is considered a civil violation, rather than a criminal act). Nonetheless, this means that the program simply ensures the enforcement of federal immigration laws; Secure Communities may capture more than “criminal aliens,” but those it does capture will be undocumented citizens who have entered the nation illegally and thus should be deported.

Essentially: Illegal immigrants are currently entering the U.S. at a rate too rapid to quantify or regulate. Under federal law, these immigrants have committed a civil infraction and are thus subject to deportation. Programs that move us closer to enforcement of this federal law should be implemented, and Secure Communities—which avoids racial profiling and unnecessary invasions of civil liberties—represents an effective way of targeting dangerous and illegal U.S. residents. The Obama administration should be commended for continuing to implement this program, and Secretary Napolitano should continue her strong stand in upholding its principles for all states.


Peter M. Bozzo ’12, a Crimson editorial writer, is a government concentrator in Eliot House.


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