Consider the following case: In January, a local police agency arrested a man for driving with a suspended license. A subsequent fingerprint screening revealed that he was also a convicted felon illegally in the United States from Mexico. His record included three prior drug trafficking convictions and six deportations in 11 years.
Or consider this one: Recently, a 32-year-old man was booked into the Los Angeles County Jail on DUI charges. His fingerprints revealed not only that he was in the United States illegally but that he had previously been deported after his conviction for killing a child in 1997.
Both men were identified through the Secure Communities program. Under the program, local law enforcement agencies send the fingerprints of those they arrest to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, where they are cross-checked against Department of Justice records to identify criminal aliens. The program enables law enforcement agencies to identify criminals who are here illegally and allows the federal government to target those who have committed serious crimes for deportation so they no longer pose a threat to our communities.
In Los Angeles County, the Sheriff’s Department also participates with ICE in a program known as 287g. Since 2006, that program has identified more than 20,000 criminal illegal immigrants here.
In both programs, it is not the Sheriff’s Department that instigates deportation proceedings: That is the role of the federal government. We provide information; ICE decides whether to act on it.
Both programs have drawn fire recently from groups concerned that they infringe on civil rights and that people arrested but not ultimately charged could end up being deported. The groups have expressed concern that the programs might lead to racial profiling or intimidate law-abiding residents who would be reluctant to cooperate with law enforcement to solve crimes. In San Francisco, the sheriff has vowed to release low-level offenders back into the community at the end of their terms, even if ICE has placed a hold on them.
These concerns are misplaced, and they put communities at risk. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, working in conjunction with the Board of Supervisors, implemented the 287g program years ago, and we were also early adopters of Secure Communities; we have not had significant problems.
We did have a serious problem, however, before implementing the programs. We had a growing number of criminal illegal immigrants who were taken into custody and eventually had to be released back onto our streets.
Many other local police agencies have seen the same kind of success we have with the program. About 1,200 state and local law enforcement jurisdictions in 42 states are now participating in the Secure Communities program. Because of this, more than 72,445 aliens convicted of crimes have been identified and deported. That number includes 26,473 criminals convicted of aggravated felonies such as murder, rape, kidnapping or the sexual abuse of children. From October 2008 to October 2010, Secure Communities helped ICE increase by 71% the number of convicted criminals deported.
Arresting officials are not deputized to enforce immigration laws. They are simply doing what they have always done. The only difference is that under Secure Communities, the fingerprints they take during the booking process are run through FBI and Department of Homeland Security databases.
Across the United States, sheriffs and police chiefs have voiced their support for this program. As law enforcers, it is our job to use all available resources to protect citizens and uphold the rule of law. Like members of Congress and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, I see the removal of criminal illegal immigrants as a top priority in securing both the nation and our communities.
Lee Baca has been sheriff of Los Angeles County since 1998.