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DHS advisors recommend changes to controversial immigrant screening process

The US Department of Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) [official website] approved a report [text, PDF] on Thursday detailing concerns with the controversial Secure Communities Program [materials], a federal enforcement program that partners local law enforcement with federal immigration authorities. A subcommittee of HSAC was formed in June by the Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano [official website] and was asked to consider how US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) [official website] could improve the program. The subcommittee was specifically asked to address concerns relating to the use of racial profiling and how "to best focus on individuals who pose a true public safety or national security threat." The report states that there was strong agreement among the committee members that ICE should continue taking enforcement action against serious criminal offenders who are subject to deportation, but that ICE enforcement policy surrounding removal of minor offenders or those who have never been convicted of a crime continues causing confusion. This confusion, they maintain, has led to concerns surrounding the impact of the Secure Communities Program on community police procedures. The report states that ICE must clarify their goals with regards to the program, and accurately provide this information to participating jurisdictions. The committee also recommends that ICE implement "systematic mechanisms to ensure that Secure Communities adheres to its stated enforcement objective of prioritizing those who pose a risk to public safety or national security." Additionally, ICE is directed to improve the transparency of the program and to clarify that "individuals who are convicted of or charged with misdemeanors or other minor offenses are not top enforcement priorities unless there are other indicia that they pose a serious risk to public safety or national security." The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) [official website] is also urged to take steps to improve the program, including strengthening remedies for civil rights violations.

The Secure Communities Program, as well as other aspects of the US immigration detention policy, have been heavily criticized by constitutional and immigration rights groups. In June, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) [advocacy website] and a coalition of other rights groups rejected [JURIST report] the changes announced by ICE to the program. The groups claimed Secure Communities undermines public safety, invites racial profiling and pulls non-citizens into what they call a "dangerous" system of detention and deportation. In March, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) [official website] released a report [JURIST report] arguing that US immigration enforcement agencies are overly reliant on a flawed detention system. The IACHR investigated six immigrant detention centers based throughout Arizona and Texas. The report expressed concern over increased use of detention by the US government, citing a doubling in detention of non-citizens by ICE. It criticized the US government for viewing detention as a necessity and not as an exception in its enforcement. IACHR also found the average 30 day detentions troubling, arguing that it is likely to increase as backlogs of immigration cases increase. The report also criticized the lack of a genuine civil detention system and use of disproportionately restrictive penal and punitive measures during the detention period.

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