"Secure Communities" is not a crime-fighting tool
Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty
September 15, 2011 05:14 PM

ACLU of Massachusetts communications director Chris Ott and staff attorney Laura Rótolo wrote the following guest blog.

What happened to Matthew Denice--the 23-year-old from Milford killed by a reportedly drunk driver--is so horrific that it is important to get the response right. Yet proponents of the S-Comm or "Secure Communities" federal immigration dragnet are getting it wrong.

Make no mistake: Nicolas Guaman, the Ecuadoran driver accused of this crime, will get his day in court. And if the reports about him are correct, he probably will be deported. But deporting this one driver is not going to prevent further accidents, and S-Comm is the wrong tool for stopping another tragedy like this one.

First, there is no evidence to suggest that undocumented immigrants are more likely than Americans to drive drunk, or commit other crimes. In fact, U.S. citizens--not immigrants--cause the vast majority of drunk driving fatalities: around 10,000 each year. And, there is real evidence that foreign-born people actually commit fewer crimes than U.S.-born ones.

Second, despite the rhetoric, S-Comm is not designed to get drunk drivers off the road or to get dangerous people off the streets. That’s because S-Comm casts a net that is much too wide. Instead of focusing on people who are dangerous, it is a dragnet that picks up everybody who gets arrested--no matter how minor the charge or whether or not the person is ever convicted. ICE has promised Congress and the public that it will focus on dangerous criminals, but instead, it is deporting record numbers of undocumented people with no criminal record, who don’t pose a danger to anybody.

In Boston, for example, recent ICE statistics show that only a third of those deported under S-Comm had major convictions. At the same time, the program fed an astounding 47,093 names and fingerprints from everyday Bostonians--presumably mostly U.S. citizens--into ICE's database.

In this way, S-Comm actually makes us less secure, by diverting resources from solving or stopping violent crime. It also makes witnesses and crime victims from immigrant communities afraid to come forward--and that is why many police say they oppose it.

Existing programs like the Criminal Alien Program (CAP), which "identifies, processes and removes criminal aliens incarcerated in federal, state, and local prisons and jails throughout the U.S.", are already in place and focus on people who have been convicted of crimes. Similarly, at the state level, those serving time in our state prisons are automatically flagged for deportation.

If we react to an incident like this one by trying to deport everyone we can in hopes that crime never happens, we won't only clog jails and courts while crime continues. We will also deport people like Antonio Diaz Chacon of Albuquerque, who was recently hailed as a hero for chasing down a man who tried to abduct a 6-year-old girl.

The way to go after drunk drivers is to go after drunk drivers, not to target immigrants. Cracking down on immigrants is not a way to solve or prevent other problems.

Gov. Patrick, Mayor Menino, and other leaders in cities such as Springfield, Northhampton, Northboro, and elsewhere have done the right thing by standing up to S-Comm. The way to fight serious crime is to focus on people who have committed serious crime--not to deploy a vast dragnet that mostly rounds up people who haven't.

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