The End of the Secure Communities Program

Posted by Matthew Green | Dec 02, 2014 | 0 Comments

As a result of President Barack Obama's immigration policy reforms, the program previously known as Secure Communities, will be discontinued. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson has issued a memorandum on the Secure Communities program. The new program will be known as the “Priority Enforcement Program” (PEP). The following is a summary of the DHS memorandum.

The Secure Communities program was intended to simplify the removal of criminal aliens who posed a threat to public safety, and repeat immigration violators.  The program was intended to more effectively identify and facilitate the removal of those individuals who were already in the custody of state and local law enforcement. However, the program was met with more and more resistance by law enforcement who increasingly refused to participate in the program.

The program was heavily criticised for impacting immigrant families for relatively minor crimes or traffic violations.  Local law enforcement also pushed back against having to enforce federal immigration policy, rather than focus on enforcement in their local communities.  As a result, some states even issued executive orders prohibiting law enforcement cooperation with the secure communities programs.  At the same time, federal courts began to rule against the authority of state law enforcement's authority to detain immigrants under the detainer program.

While Secretary Johnson believes the overarching goal of Secure Communities is valid, it must be implemented in a way, “that supports community policing and sustains the trust of all elements of the community in working with local law enforcement.”  As a result of the lessons learned from the failures of Secure Communities, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will discontinue the program.  In its place, ICE will prioritize transfer of an alien in state or local law enforcement custody based upon the priorities defined in the Policies for the Apprehension, Detention and Removal of Undocumented Immigrants Memorandum.

Additionally, at the judgement of ICE Field Office Directors, ICE can prioritise the apprehension, detention and removal of individuals who pose a demonstrable risk to national security.  Enforcement actions should not be taken unless an individual is a danger to national security, or are prioritized as Priority 1 (a), (c), (d), (e), or Priority 2 (a) or (b) in the above memo.

The memo also makes a change to the detention requirement for local and state law enforcement.  In response to the federal court decisions which held that detainer-based detention by state and local law enforcement violates the Constitution, ICE will request notification rather than detention. Notification is the request for state or local law enforcement to notify ICE of a pending release during the time that person is otherwise in custody under state or local authority.

When ICE does make a request for detention from local or state law enforcement, they must specify that the person is subject to a final order of removal, or there is probable cause that the person is removable, to address Fourth Amendment concerns. If ICE determines an individual is apprehension and removal priority, and if state or local law enforcement agrees, ICE may seek such a transfer.

For the Priority Enforcement Program to succeed, local and state government will be informed of these related policy and enforcement changes.  The Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs is to formulate a plan and coordinate efforts to engage local law enforcement related to these changes.

The full memorandum on the Secure Communities program can be found here.

About the Author

Matthew Green

Managing Partner. Green | Evans-Schroeder (formerly Law Offices of Matthew H. Green) focuses on the aggressive defense of immigrants. A native of Arizona, Mr. Green understands the difficulties that immigrants and families of immigrants face when a loved one is charged with a crime. He knows how frightening it can be for some...


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