A Tale of Two Programs: Secure Communities vs. 287(g)

By Jessica M. Vaughan on March 12, 2010

Statistics recently released by the Harris County (Texas) Sheriff's Office provide an interesting point of comparison for two of ICE's programs that identify and flag criminal aliens for removal – Secure Communities and 287(g).

Former ICE Official Dan Cadman Discusses
the 287(g) Program and Secure Communities:
View the Full Interview

Harris is the nation's third most-populous county; it includes Houston and has one of the largest concentrations of illegal aliens. It has implemented both Secure Communities and 287(g). Both programs identify and place detainers on aliens who have been arrested by local officers and deputies, putting these offenders on the path to removal rather than allowing them to remain here to commit more crimes. Secure Communities is an automated screening system that runs the fingerprints of everyone booked into participating jails through immigration databases and then forwards the hits to ICE technicians, who select criminal aliens for removal processing. Under 287(g), specially trained local officers screen and process aliens who have been arrested in that jurisdiction.

Over the period March 8, 2008, to September 30, 2009, local HCSO deputies identified and processed 12,247 removable aliens, the majority of whom had committed a jail-able offense. But only about 5,700 (47 percent) of those aliens were flagged (an average of four hours later) by Secure Communities.

Why the difference? Secure Communities can only flag those aliens whose prints or identifying information is already in immigration databases. The local 287(g) officers can determine the status of aliens who have not had contact with immigration agents – mostly recent illegal arrivals committing their first non-immigration crime, or people admitted on border crossing cards, who are not fingerprinted upon entry like visitors from most other countries. And, Secure Communities prioritizes which criminals will be subjected to immigration law, while the HCSO 287(g) officers try to process virtually every alien offender who is removable.

Whether this results gap for Secure Communities is due to conceptual problems, capacity limitations, the prioritization scheme, or something else, it represents underachievement on a large scale.

This year the Obama administration is asking for $146.9 million in new funding for Secure Communities. They have deployed it to 118 jurisdictions and have identified 111,000 criminal aliens so far. By way of comparison, the administration is expected to ask for $5 million for new 287(g) agreements. The government has spent about $114 million over the entire life of the 287(g) program, and it has produced over 130,000 arrests. However, no new agreements have been announced, and the program is currently leaderless. (See my previous blog on the embattled ex-police chief rumored to be under consideration to head the program).

Both programs are well worth having, since different communities have different law enforcement needs. But before throwing more money at Secure Communities, congressional appropriators ought to ask ICE what more can be done to achieve a better value for the taxpayers.