Advocates for immigrants have always criticized a federal program that gives the immigration authority access to arrest records. Now, they say they have the numbers to back up their claims.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say the program, known as “secure communities,” focuses resources on finding and deporting criminal immigrants. But advocates call it a dragnet that sweeps up law-abiding immigrants and breeds fear of the police.
Philadelphia is one of hundreds of cities across the country participating in the program. If a person is arrested, their fingerprints are transferred to immigration enforcement at the time of booking, whether or not they are brought to trial or found guilty.
Philadelphia ranks fifth when it comes to the percentage of deportees identified through the program who were never convicted of a serious crime.
Sarahi Uribe is with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, which took ICE to court in order to get detailed statistics.
“The chilling effect that this kind of collaboration creates is probably unquantifiable. We know it takes years for local police to establish relationships with communities,” said Uribe. “We know that immigrant communities already have a certain fear of collaborating with police, calling police for help.”
Sixty-one percent of those deported due to Philadelphia’s role in the program are listed as non-criminals. That’s much higher than the national average — which is 27 percent.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Philadelphia’s office of Public Safety did not return calls for comment.