A new report says that the majority of Caribbean and other nationals detained for deportation in Miami-Dade County through a controversial US federal immigration enforcement programme are not dangerous criminals.
The conclusions of the 57-page report False Promises: The Failure of Secure Communities in Miami-Dade County, released here on Monday, are at odds with the stated objectives of Secure Communities, the federal programme launched in 2008.
Those goals are to detain and deport convicted Caribbean and other nationals who pose a threat to public safety and those who are repeat violators of immigration laws, such as immigrants who have returned to the United States after being deported.
Contrary to these policy goals, we found that 61 percent of individuals ordered for removal from Miami-Dade County are either low-level offenders or not guilty of the crime for which they were arrested, says the report, prepared jointly by Americans for Immigrant Justice, a Miami-based immigrant-rights group, and the Research Institute on Social & Economic Policy at Florida International University's (FIU) Centre for Labour Research & Studies.
Under Secure Communities, the names and fingerprints of immigrants arrested by police in a given county are turned over to the US Department of Homeland Security, whose Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency checks for nationals who might be subject to detention and potential deportation.
ICE declined to comment on the report, but defended the Secure Communities programme.
Over the past three years, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has dramatically changed the way it conducts immigration enforcement, the statement said.
ICE implemented clear priorities, enhanced the use of prosecutorial discretion, and implemented a sustained focus on the identification and removal of criminal aliens and other priority individuals.
ICE said that Secure Communities has proven to be the single-most-valuable tool in allowing the agency to eliminate the ad hoc approach to identification used in the past, and focus on criminal aliens and repeat immigration law violators.
Since its activation on October 27, 2008, through January 31, ICE said Secure Communities has helped deport more than 254,000 Caribbean and other foreign nationals who had been convicted of serious crimes, including more than 72,000, who had been found guilty of such crimes as murder, rape and sexual abuse of children.
More than 95 percent of the 254,249 removals generated through Secure Communities clearly fell within one of ICE's enforcement priorities, the statement said.
To prevent abuses, ICE said, on December 21, it issued new guidance limiting the use of detention to those who meet the agency's enforcement priorities, not those arrested for misdemeanors, such as traffic offenses and petty crimes.
But the report disagrees with ICE's position.
By ICE's standards, only 18 percent of the individuals ordered for removal represent high priority public safety risks, and that number drops to a mere six percent when we apply local standards suggested by Miami-Dade County's Public Defender.
Interviews with detainees also reveal that often residents are stopped by police for no apparent reason and subjected to detention and deportation, it added.