Secure Communities Task Force Releases Recommendations, Five Members Resign In Disagreement

WASHINGTON -- A group tasked with suggesting fixes for the Secure Communities immigration enforcement program released its report on Thursday as five committee members resigned in disagreement, including all three union members and a retired police chief.

The task force recommended the Department of Homeland Security start over and "reintroduce" the program in areas where it has proved unpopular, and recommended undocumented immigrants with minor traffic offenses be exempted from removal proceedings through the program. The five members of the 19-member task force resigned because they could not support the final recommendations and disagreed with the committee's decision-making process.

Arturo Venegas, retired police chief of Sacramento and director of the Law Enforcement Engagement Initiative, said the committee's recommendations fall "far short" of the principles he kept in mind throughout the council.

"I believe that people with minor infractions, such as driving without a license, will still be put into deportation proceedings based on the scheme recommended by the task force," he wrote in a letter to Chuck Wexler, chairman of the task force. "Immigrants will continue to fear that contact with the police could lead to deportation, crimes will go unreported, and criminals will remain free to prey on others."

Secure Communities, a central part of the administration's goal to deport 400,000 undocumented immigrants per year, relies on fingerprints taken by local police to detect and remove undocumented immigrants. But critics of the program argue it nets too many people who commit minor crimes, such as traffic violations, or who are charged but never convicted.

The task force report was highly critical of the roll-out and procedures of Secure Communities, writing that the department gave "incorrect or incomplete" information to localities regarding the program.

The Department of Homeland Security made a number of missteps in rolling out the program, particularly by making contradictory statements about whether the program would be mandatory. At first, homeland security officials said the program would be voluntary for local communities and based on memorandums of understanding with states. But when counties and states began to try to opt out, the department rapidly changed course, saying the program was never meant as an "opt-in/opt-out program."

States were later informed that their memorandums of understanding with the Department of Homeland Security were meaningless. New York, Illinois and Massachusetts, all of which moved to block the program locally, were told the program would continue to operate.

The report also said Secure Communities could have an "unintended negative impact" on immigrant communities and harm community policing efforts by making immigrants scared to contact the police. The task force found in its hearings that many people detected by immigration authorities by the program had committed minor crimes, which was inconsistent with the department's stated goal of targeting the "worst of the worst."

The three union members to resign, Christopher Crane and Monica Beamer of the American Federation of Government Employees and Andrea Zuniga DiBitetto of the AFL-CIO, said in a Wednesday letter that they could not support the final report because they disagreed with the manner in which it was written.

"We entered the [task force] with a true willingness to participate in a collaborative effort," the letter reads. "Unfortunately, throughout the process, it became clear that our perspectives and and recommendations were not going to be acknowledged or contained in the report onto which we have been asked to sign."

Moving forward, some critics of the program argue the task force report, along with the five resignations, shows that the Secure Communities should be ended.

"This task force was nothing but a colossal failure by [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] to defend an program that's indefensible," Sarahi Uribe of National Day Laborer's Organizing Network, a key critic of the program, said in a statement. "There's only one recommendation to make: end [Secure Communities] now."

Matt Chandler, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said in a statement that the department's Advisory Council would review and finalize the recommendations, then submit them to John Morton, the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The task force members who resigned will have the chance to meet with Morton to discuss their concerns, Chandler said.