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Executive Action Should Scrap Secure Communities

As the president continues to determine what shape any final executive action will take, the local impact of his decision should be front and center. To that end, I believe our country must finally do away with Secure Communities, a deeply flawed immigration enforcement program.
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Ignoring the demands of the American public, House Republicans have spent years standing squarely in the way of comprehensive immigration reform. After countless attempts to negotiate and find a way forward, the president appears poised to use his executive authority to fix our backwards, broken system.

Proposals emerging from the White House so far are heartening; from overhauling a deportation system that has torn thousands of families apart to expanding essential visas for businesses and innovators.

As the president continues to determine what shape any final executive action will take, the impact of his decision on local neighborhoods, cities, towns and law enforcement officials should be front and center. To that end, I believe our country must finally do away with Secure Communities, a deeply flawed immigration enforcement program.

My experience as an Assistant District Attorney originally encouraged me to keep an open mind about Secure Communities. There was no question the program needed improvement. But as a former prosecutor, I believe information sharing amongst law enforcement is critical to reducing crime, allowing us to get a holistic picture of any defendant and ensure we keep dangerous offenders off the streets.

After two years in Congress, it's clear to me that when it comes to federal immigration policy, "information-sharing" is a good phrase being used to mask bad policy. In the face of a broken immigration system and a Republican Party that has stood in the way of meaningful reform, Secure Communities has become cover for a deportation approach that fails to target real threats, tears families apart, degrades trust in local officials and places the burden of immigration enforcement on the shoulders of our cities and towns.

Serious criminals who are in this country illegally must be tracked down and sent home. Often, that requires cooperation between local and federal officials. But rather than serve as a dependable channel of communication to help law enforcement target real threats, Secure Communities has become an indiscriminate dragnet.

By the end of 2013 only half of the 1,400 deportees via Secure Communities in Massachusetts had criminal records and only one-third had been convicted of a serious crime. Nationally, at least a quarter of those deported under Secure Communities had no criminal record at all.

As a result, the program has systemically eroded community trust in local law enforcement - a concern I hear across Massachusetts, where mayors in Boston, Somerville and Northampton have said their cities will no longer comply with the program. These local leaders have seen the fear of being fingerprinted drive issues like domestic violence and gang activity into the dark, undermining the community policing high-risk neighborhoods depend on to keep their streets safe. On top of that, fingerprints are shared with ICE at the point of an arrest - not a conviction - meaning that innocent people get caught up in the system with no avenue to appeal or challenge the outcome.

Across the country, Secure Communities has diverted critical law enforcement resources that could and should be used elsewhere. In 2012, California estimated its taxpayers paid over $65 million a year to comply with ICE detainers, or the equivalent of over 700 state trooper salaries. In Cook County, Illinois, that price tag was around $15 million a year, or the cost of nearly 200 public school teachers in Chicago.

From California to Connecticut, states have been forced to take the matter in to their own hands, passing versions of the TRUST Act, a commendable piece of legislation that actually limits ICE detainers to the serious criminals they are supposed to target. After passing the TRUST Act, monthly detainers in Connecticut went down by nearly 75 percent - and of those, 90 percent had either a felony conviction or prior deportation order.

Towns, cities and states have taken action because our country has left them on the front lines of this fight. Local cops and municipal budgets have been forced to pick up the slack of our federal government's failure to set consistent and coherent immigration policy.

Now let me be clear: this failure lies at the feet of House Republicans, who have refused to let us cast a vote on bipartisan legislation that the majority of Americans say they want and our country urgently needs.

In the face of Congressional inaction, President Obama has rightly shown a willingness to assert his executive authority to fix a badly broken system. Secure Communities demands a piece of that attention. Over the past few years, the Administration has undertaken review after review of the program. They have examined, they have analyzed, and they have studied.

Now it's time to act. For all of that research and review, the story of Secure Communities is pretty simple at this point. The program isn't doing what it promised. By crippling community policing, strapping local law enforcement and diverting resources away from real threats, it's making us less secure.

So whatever action the president takes in the weeks ahead, Secure Communities in its current form must be scrapped and replaced with an immigration enforcement policy that targets those who truly pose a threat.

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