Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) joined many of her House colleagues in a letter to President Barack Obama asking that he end the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Secure Communities initiative, a tool used by federal officials to track undocumented immigrants. DHS has limited the ability of local law enforcement jurisdictions, including the District of Columbia, to opt out of the program.
"Secure Communities as implemented does more to compromise safety than to enhance it," Norton said. "Both Latino and other legal immigrants sometimes feel alienated in a country where they may have language difficulties, and might come from countries where they had every reason to fear police and other authorities. It is ironic that a federal law could deter our residents from reporting violations of local law or make them fearful of cooperating with local law enforcement officials. Our local police officers should be focused on protecting our community from criminals, not on law-abiding immigrants."
Last week, the D.C. Council voted to limit the city's participation in the federal initiative, and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has ordered District police not to inquire about immigration status when arresting residents. In 2009, after a briefing by her Congressional Latino Council about the negative effects that Secure Communities would have on D.C.'s Latino residents and other immigrants, Norton wrote to Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier expressing her concern about the initiative. Norton said that she feared that the overly broad scope of the Secure Communities initiative would make citizens, as well as documented immigrants, skeptical of cooperating with the police. When detained under this program, immigrants are not given a right to counsel and are shipped off to remote detention centers.
November 17, 2011 The Honorable Barack Obama President of the United States The White House Washington, DC, 20500
Dear Mr. President:
As Secure Communities continues to expand, we write because we have been deeply troubled by the implementation of the program since its inception. We were further concerned when the Department of Homeland Security undermined the ability of states to opt out of the program by unilaterally terminating all Memoranda of Agreement with State Identification Bureaus across the country. Now, the recently released report of the task force established by DHS to review Secure Communities has led us to conclude that the program must immediately be terminated.
The task force report confirms the concerns we have been raising for more than a year. It makes clear that Secure Communities sows mistrust of the police and other uniformed personnel, thereby making our communities less safe. The broad scope of the program means that immigrants, both documented and undocumented, are afraid to cooperate with police officers, because doing so may lead to deportation of themselves or their families. This understandable reticence makes it harder for the police to investigate crimes that happen in our communities.
In addition to the impact on law enforcement, this program of wholesale removals hurts our communities by funneling immigrants into an unjust deportation system that fails to offer due process protections. When detained, individuals are not afforded a right to counsel and are often transferred to remote locations for detention, which severely limits their access to resources to help them fight their cases. This patently unfair system needs to be seriously reformed, not expanded through fatally-flawed programs like Secure Communities.
Immigrants are an integral part of the communities we represent. They go to our schools, work in our businesses, pay taxes, serve as the primary breadwinners in their families, and help to give our communities their unique character. Our communities continue to be damaged by this growing collaboration between police and immigration enforcement.
We urge you to immediately stop Secure Communities. We cannot make our communities safer by tearing them apart.
José E. Serrano, Yvette D. Clarke, Charles B. Rangel, Jerrold Nadler, Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, Gwen Moore, Pete Stark, Barbara Lee, Jared Polis, Raúl M. Grijalva, Jesse L. Jackson, Jr., Keith Ellison, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Earl Blumenauer, Judy Chu, Nydia M. Velázquez, Luis V. Gutierrez, Rubén Hinojosa, Mike Honda, Ed Pastor, Jan Schakowsky, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Jim McDermott, Lloyd Doggett, Bob Filner, Joseph Crowley, Albio Sires, Grace F. Napolitano, Edolphus Towns, Janice Hahn, Pedro R. Pierluisi, and Peter Welch.