Guest Blog by Samuel Tsoi In the absence of comprehensive immigration reform legislation, a central demand by advocates is the just and humane treatment of undocumented immigrants and ending the deportation of the majority of undocumented immigrants who do no harm to communities.   Record number of immigrants has been deported since 2008, including many with no criminal records. One of the tools touted by Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the controversial fingerprint sharing program ‘Secure Communities,’ or S-COMM.  It was piloted in various local jurisdictions, sharing fingerprints of those arrested with ICE, who can then immediately detain them, even if they were never convicted. The intent was to nab those who are a threat to public safety, but ICE’s own data of results in Boston has shown that most of whom the program ensnared are non-criminal and low-level offenders.   This overreach essentially makes every local cop under S-COMM a potential immigration agent. It is also redundant in regards to its intent since many jurisdictions already check immigration status in courts and prisons.  As a recent report by the American Immigration Lawyers Association shows, the consequences of criminal-enforcement (police) taking on civil immigration enforcement (feds) are devastating to the dignity of immigrants and the actual work of ensuring public safety.  While it cannot be proven to be systematic, the instances when an immigrant is detained after being fingerprinted for a broken headlamp, or harassed on the street – has damaging ripple effects.   Governors in Massachusetts, New York and Illinois have challenged S-COMM’s implementation in those states this year.  Meanwhile, five other states passed bills modeled after Arizona’s SB 1070, which deputizes police to check immigration status of people suspected of crimes. Local authorities have also joined the fray, with some jurisdiction denouncing the program, while others threatened to sign-up. All in all, Congress’s inaction and the politics of S-COMM have done nothing to ease the anxieties.  Intimidation and confusion will permeate even after the recent changes to deportation practices by the Obama administration on August 18.  This latest (and arguably the most significant) move by the president sends the basic message that immigrants that pose no threat should not be the target of enforcement.   The announcement that ICE will now reprioritize the 300,000 backlog cases will not only make actual crime-fighting more efficient, but also puts painful family-splitting detentions prudently to the backburner.  It is not, however, anything close to amnesty. It offers no legal status, no guaranteed work-permit, and no “safe” way to turn oneself in or apply for work authorization.   While undocumented immigrants that are graduating from high school (potential DREAMers), domestic violence survivors, tax-paying workers, and those building families who are otherwise law-abiding will not be first to be deported, there also ought to be a chance for them to earn legal residency.  But there is little hope of a gridlocked Washington coming up with a sensible solution. Further, ICE still plans to implement S-COMM in every jurisdiction across the country by 2013, regardless of objections by states and many police chiefs that the program is damaging law enforcement-community relations and the eroding the trust between police and victims.  Immigrant witnesses experiencing or perceiving racial profiling and unnecessary harassment will also be hesitant to participate in investigations.   As Christians, we can help stem the tide of criminalizing immigrants and the politicization of national security, by not giving in to fear-mongering and by reminding the public of the human cost of inflexible enforcement.   The recent change to enforcement implementation is one step toward addressing the dire need for sensible and fair immigration policy, but erosion of community-policing for the sake of ‘Secure Communities’ needs to be undone. Finally, rethinking what security means will help reduce the nervousness and polarization in our debates about immigration in our experiences of building communities.

Samuel Tsoi is a Policy Associate for the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition.  He is a member of the Boston Chinese Evangelical Church and graduate of Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts.  Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92 or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.  If you’re interested in writing a guest blog, contact    

One Response to Immigration’s Enforcement Paradox

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