Immigration

Report: Many foreign nationals detained for deportation are not criminals

 
 
A report to be issued today shows that many foreign nationals detained for deportation did not pose a threat to public safety. Pictured here, a detainee at the Krome Detention Center is escorted through one of the many secured walkways at the complex.
A report to be issued today shows that many foreign nationals detained for deportation did not pose a threat to public safety. Pictured here, a detainee at the Krome Detention Center is escorted through one of the many secured walkways at the complex.
Donna E. Natale Planas / Miami Herald File

achardy@ElNuevoHerald.com

A majority of foreign nationals detained for deportation in Miami-Dade County through the controversial immigration enforcement program called Secure Communities were not dangerous criminals, according to a report to be released Monday.

The conclusions of the 57 page report, “False Promises: The Failure of Secure Communities in Miami-Dade County,” are at odds with the stated objectives of the federal program launched in 2008.

Those goals are to detain and deport convicted foreign 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,” according to the report.

The report was prepared jointly by the staff of a Miami immigrant-rights organization, Americans for Immigrant Justice, and the Research Institute on Social & Economic Policy at Florida International University’s Center for Labor Research & Studies.

The report is to be released at an 11 a.m. news conference Monday at the offices of Americans for Immigrant Justice.

Under Secure Communities, the names and fingerprints of people arrested by police in a given county are turned over to the Department of Homeland Security, whose Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency checks for foreign nationals who might be subject to detention and potential deportation.

In a statement, ICE said it "cannot comment on a report the agency has not reviewed," but defended the Secure Communities program.

“Over the past three years, U.S. 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.

It added 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 Oct. 27, 2008, through Jan. 31, the statement noted, Secure Communities has helped ICE deport more than 254,000 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.

New guidelines

To prevent abuses, it added, ICE on Dec. 21, issued new guidance limiting the use of detention to foreign nationals who meet the agency’s enforcement priorities, not those arrested for misdemeanors such as traffic offenses and petty crimes.

The immigrant-rights group’s report took issue with ICE’s stance.

“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 6 percent when we apply local standards suggested by Miami-Dade County’s Public Defender,” the report states. “Interviews with detainees also reveal that often residents are stopped by police for no apparent reason and subjected to detention and deportation.”

The report also cited other problems that the program allegedly causes in immigrant communities.

“Secure Communities in Miami-Dade County also has a disproportionately negative impact on Mexicans and Central Americans who constitute a relatively low percentage of the local population but a high percentage of those whom Secure Communities detained and removed,” the report states.

The report also quoted several immigrants detained under the Secure Communities program.

In one example, a man identified as Chel, a Mexican of Mayan descent, described how he became subject to deportation proceedings after police arrested him for a traffic infraction.

Detained by ICE

“In late September 2011, Chel and one of his employees were driving in his van along the I-95 corridor to a job site when he was pulled over by a Miami-Dade police officer,” the report states. “In the best English he could muster, Chel asked why he had been stopped. The police officer ignored his question and instead asked Chel and his employee to get out of the car and demanded to be told who else was hiding in the van.”

The officer opened the back doors of the van but found no one else. Chel handed over his expired New Mexico driver’s license. Chel’s employee could not produce any identification. Soon, both men were taken to jail.

“After spending two days and nights in jail, Chel and his employee were handed over to ICE officials and driven to the Broward Transitional Center, an immigration detention facility,” the report states. “After being detained there for two weeks Chel learned that he had been arrested for driving with an expired driver’s license and that his fingerprints had been run through ICE’s database to determine whether or not he was in the country legally.”

To prepare the report, FIU’s Research Institute on Social & Economic Policy analyzed 12 months of arrest records, and the detentions and subsequent dispositions of 1,790 individuals held in Miami-Dade County Corrections’ jails for Secure Communities. The research institute also interviewed Miami-Dade residents affected by Secure Communities and officials of Miami and Miami-Dade County.

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