DHS Report Confirms ICE Officers Use Secure Communities Properly

By Jessica M. Vaughan on April 11, 2012

A new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) internal audit of ICE's implementation of Secure Communities finds that, contrary to critics' allegations, the program is effective in identifying criminal aliens and that ICE officers are not being overzealous in selecting aliens for removal. If anything, officers are erring on the side of not pursuing removal of criminal aliens when warranted.

Among the highlights of the report:

Former ICE Official Dan Cadman Explains
the Secure Communities Program:
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  • Secure Communities (SC) has greatly improved ICE's ability to identify some of the hundreds of thousands of criminal aliens in the country. Before SC was launched, ICE could cover only about 14 percent of jails nationwide. As of April 3, 2012, 81 percent of jails are covered.

  • Using SC, aliens are identified sooner in the judicial process — at the time of arrest. This offends many opponents of immigration enforcement, who insist that ICE should not know about or act against illegal aliens until they are convicted of a serious crime. This report explains that when the screening takes place at arrest, ICE can find aliens with serious criminal histories or a record of multiple immigration violations (often unknown to the local officers) even if they are arrested for minor offenses. Now these individuals can be taken into ICE custody instead of being released by local officers to disappear and/or re-offend.

  • Since 2008, ICE has spent about $750 million on Secure Communities and identified more than 692,000 criminal aliens. According to SC program statistics, 176,000 of those have been removed (some are still doing time, quite a few others turned out not to be removable, and others were released to await a hearing or dismissal of charges under Obama administration policies of "prosecutorial discretion").

  • Just over half (52 percent) of the criminal aliens identified by ICE were detained so that ICE could pursue immigration charges (see below for more details). U.S. citizens were not detained, nor were most aliens with legal status. These results are consistent with an analysis completed by my colleague W.D. Reasoner and me — particularly the finding on U.S. citizens. Anti-enforcement groups have erroneously alleged that "thousands" of U.S. citizens have been wrongfully detained after being identified by SC.

  • Local agencies do not incur significant costs when they participate in SC, contrary to what has been claimed by illegal-alien sanctuaries that were reluctantly included in SC, such as San Francisco and Santa Clara County in California. These alleged costs have been cited by the sheriff of Cook County, Ill., in justifying his release of hundreds of illegal alien felons in recent months. The auditors say they attempted to verify the sheriff's claims, but apparently could not.

The auditors examined 766 cases of aliens identified under SC. Of the cases they could assess, they found that ICE officers took appropriate action 97 percent of the time. Sample outcomes include:

  • 45 percent were not detained because they did not fit ICE's established priorities. These included: 88 U.S. citizens, 218 aliens with legal status of some kind, and 21 (presumably illegal) aliens without prior immigration or criminal records.

  • 44 percent were detained because they clearly fit ICE priorites, and then were removed or turned out to be unremovable. The vast majority of these (85 percent) were convicted criminals and the rest were serial immigration violators and scofflaws.

  • 6 percent were detained even though they were not yet convicted of criminal charges and had no prior immigration violations (but were here illegally). This is the category of cases that anti-enforcement groups object to the most. In trying to discredit the program, these advocacy groups have suggested that such cases make up as much as half of the SC caseload, but clearly that is not so.

  • 2 percent were detained even though they were legal permanent residents because their criminal convictions were serious or numerous enough to cost them their green cards.

The auditors questioned the actions of ICE officers in 3 percent of the cases. In 24 of those 25 cases, the auditors found that ICE officers did not take action even though the individuals appeared to meet the criteria. Sixteen of these cases involved convicted criminals. In just one case the auditors found that ICE took action to detain a green card holder without documenting a criminal record. So contrary to what critics have suggested, in the few instances when ICE officers have acted outside the parameters of stated ICE priorities, they are actually more lenient than they should be. This cannot be the result that SC opponents had hoped for when Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) requested this audit.

One criticism made by the auditors was that ICE officers sometimes do not enter enough information on the cases to assess whether they are handled appropriately. They directed ICE to correct this problem. Lack of pertinent information prevented the auditors from assessing ICE action in 6 percent of the cases. This is consistent with the findings in our recent analysis of Secure Communities. Inconsistent data entry is a big problem for ICE and interferes with sound policy analysis. The report suggests that the cases with missing data are usually those where ICE officers took no action — not a result of ICE officers trying to conceal inappropriate action.

In general, this audit was a convincing endorsement of the value of the Secure Communities program and confirmation that ICE officers in the field are not over-reaching. For this reason, we should not expect it to receive much notice in the mainstream media, where most reporters instead have focused on the unsubstantiated criticisms lobbed by immigration law enforcement opponents.