The Secure Communities program was started in 2008, but under President Obama has been expanded to over half of all state and local law enforcement jurisdictions. The program allows local law enforcement to identify undocumented immigrants and prioritize deportation of criminals. However, the program has come under heavy scrutiny over the years for its lack of clear regulations, and the negative effect it has had on local communities. Now, a recent study has found that deportations under the Secure Communities program have had no discernible effect on lowering local crime rates.
By integrating immigration enforcement with local policing, the program allows law enforcement to check the immigration status of each individual arrested by local police. The immigration enforcement program was intended to focus on deporting convicted criminals, to improve public safety. However, the study by two law professors shows that the program had “no meaningful reduction” in the overall crime rate of in the participating local communities.
NYU Law professor Adam Cox and University of Chicago Law School Professor Thomas J. Miles looked at data on the number of immigrants detained under the program in each county and month, from federal government records. They looked at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) crime rate index, and found no meaningful reductions. They also found no reduced rates of violent crimes, including homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. The professors found that the “evidence shows that the program has not served its central objective of making communities safer.”
“This is important because Secure Communities specifically, and criminal deportation policies more generally, have long been publicly justified on grounds that they keep communities safer from violent crime,” said the authors of the study.
Because the program was rolled out gradually, community by community, over the course of several years, the researchers could conduct very controlled analysis of the program on a jurisdiction by jurisdiction basis to measure the effects of the policy on local crime rates.
Many Immigrant rights advocates have questioned the efficacy of the program, arguing that it unnecessarily sweeps up many immigrants who have committed minor crimes such as traffic violations, as well as those who have committed no crimes at all. Even President Obama's administration has considered overhauling the program, which is currently under internal review. Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson has said the program needs, “a fresh start.”
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials continue to defend the program. They have cited deportation of 288,000 convicted criminals from October 2008 to May 2014, including 113,000 individuals convicted of violent offenses.
An unnamed senior official quoted by the New York Times has said the program, “has allowed us to get the most egregious violators of our local statutes out of our communities and remove them from the country.” With recidivism rates around 50%, he proposed the program has prevented 100,000 people from committing another crime in the community.
The professors countered claims by ICE, stating the program, “promoted as a tool for reducing crime — especially violent crime — and making communities safer. Our paper shows that there is no support for that.”