Immigrant deportation program could be flawed

A program designed to remove criminal aliens has actually been used to deport more than 1,200 people from North Carolina who have never been convicted of a crime, a reesenews investigation has revealed.

Nationwide, more than 27,000 people who were classified as “non-criminals” by the Secure Communities program have been deported since October 2008, according to data released last month by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The agency released the data in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, the National Day Laborers Organizing Network and the Center for Constitutional Rights.

The new data appear to contradict Secure Communities’ mission “to improve public safety by implementing a comprehensive, integrated approach to identify and remove criminal aliens from the United States,” as stated in the strategic plan by ICE.

But reesenews has found that in North Carolina since 2008:

  • 40 percent of people deported were classified as “non-criminals”
  • Of the 91 out of 100 counties active in the Secure Communities program as of February 2011, 18 reported that at least 50 percent of those deported were classified as “non-criminals”
  • In Mecklenburg County, 315 out of 736 people, or more than 42 percent, deported were “non-criminals”
  • Of the 1,218 people deported from Wake County, 469 people or more than 38 percent were “non-criminals”
  • Exactly 50 percent or 13 out of 26 people deported from Orange County were “non-criminals”

The Secure Communities program, an ICE initiative overseen by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, combines criminal history and immigration status fingerprint databases so that criminal and U.S. citizenship history is checked for every person fingerprinted.

When criminal aliens are identified through fingerprinting, they are subject to arrest, booking into ICE custody and possible deportation proceedings. The program is designed to prioritize the most serious criminals for deportation.

Criminals are divided into three categories. Level 1 includes major drug offenses, national security crimes and violent crimes such as murder, manslaughter and rape; Level 2 includes minor drug and property crimes such as burglary and fraud; Level 3 is ambiguously described as those convicted of “other offenses.”


The term “non-criminal” is not mentioned in the Secure Communities memoranda of agreement between ICE and each state, in the strategic plan, mission statement or program brochure, but it appears in statistics released by the program. So who are these non-criminals?

“What this is, is recruiting local law enforcement to be a dragnet to round up anyone who happens to be here illegally,” said Marty Rosenbluth, executive director of the North Carolina Immigrant Rights Project, an initiative to assist in legal needs of the immigrant community in the state.

ICE created the category for statistical purposes to label those who are not actually criminals, Rosenbluth said. ICE spokesperson Nicole Mavas said that the category refers to aliens who have not been convicted of any crimes in the U.S., or to people who were booked but never convicted of an offense. But these people were still identified and deported through the Secure Communities program.

When asked if the deportation of non-criminals should take place through the Secure Communities program, Mavas said that ICE’s priorities include not only criminals, but also other threats to public safety or the community.

“While we prioritize the removal of criminal convicted aliens, we are still enforcing the law with regards to other aliens that the agency encounters that are subject to removal,” she said.

Yet critics wonder whether Secure Communities is acting outside of its established bounds by deporting non-criminals.

“They shouldn’t be in deportation proceedings. They shouldn’t be part of the program, yet in many jurisdictions they’re the majority,” Rosenbluth said.


Other apparent contradictions cloud the program.

Mavas, the ICE spokesperson, said that aliens arrested for a criminal offense must complete the criminal case process before they are deported. Unless the charges are dropped, the alien pleads guilty or the punishment is otherwise ruled to be served, the justice proceedings must be carried out and the accused is entitled to a trial.

“I talk to two or three criminal defense attorneys a week, sometimes more, who had clients who were waiting for their trial and ended up getting deported,” Rosenbluth said.

If the person is innocent but is deported before a criminal trial, not only are they unable to prove his or her innocence, but they may also be subject to further criminal charges for failing to appear in court, he said.

“So once again, they are saying, yeah, we have this policy but we don’t really enforce it, we’ll deport anything that moves,” he said.

“When you think of the presumption of innocence and calling people criminals who have never been convicted, it is kind of stands counter to everything that our justice system relies on,” said Bridget Kessler, clinical teaching fellow with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, which was one party involved in the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that led to the Secure Communities data release last month.

If the program is operating as a “dragnet,” affecting more than just criminal aliens, it could stress the relationship between the police and the communities they serve, Kessler said.

A lack of trust between the community and local law enforcement can deter people from alerting law enforcement of a crime, Rosenbluth explained. Under North Carolina law, anyone accused of domestic violence must be arrested and fingerprinted. This could deter victims and witnesses who are undocumented immigrants from notifying law enforcement in fear of being wrongfully accused.

Mavas said that ICE uses discretion to ensure that victims and witnesses are protected, and that immigration benefits are available for victims of certain crimes.

For example, for the benefit known as a voluntary departure, an undocumented immigrant can consent to leave the U.S. voluntarily and waive the right to appear before an immigration judge, Mavas said. By doing so, the person will be allowed to apply to reenter the United States in the future whereas an involuntary removal would not.

But Rosenbluth said he knows of two cases in which the victims of domestic violence were not allowed the benefits because they were never proved to be victims — the abusers were deported before the criminal trial was held.

Sam Pennicca, director of the City-County Bureau of Investigation for Wake County, said that everyone arrested is fingerprinted and photographed.

“Any local law officer knows that if they want to get someone deported, all they have to do is arrest them. Innocence or guilt does not come in,” Rosenbluth said.

Some local law enforcers disagree.

“If they are here illegally, they’re committing a crime. If they are breaking the law, that is our job to figure it out,” said Lt. William Jewell of the Pamlico County Law Enforcement Association.

“I don’t see the problem. If you are here illegally and get caught at it, I don’t see why you’re going to cry, because you came,” he said.

Pamlico County, one of the smaller counties in North Carolina, recently activated Secure Communities, and Jewell said he is glad to have the new system. He said that anything that can provide law enforcement agencies with information is beneficial.

“It connects us with the information needed to find out if we need to take a look at somebody,” he said “If we don’t take a look, then things can drop through the cracks.”

As of March 2011, the program will be active in all 100 counties in North Carolina, said Temple Black, spokesperson for ICE. By 2013, ICE plans to have the program implemented nationwide.

But some still do not think the program should be implemented at all.

“For ICE to actually say to you with a straight face that even though these people (criminal aliens) are a priority, but if anyone turns up to be undocumented we are going to deport them anyway — that just shows that Secure Communities is totally flawed and needs to be abandoned,” Rosenbluth said.

  1. I love this crap: “For ICE to actually say to you with a straight face that even though these people (criminal aliens) are a priority, but if anyone turns up to be undocumented we are going to deport them anyway — that just shows that Secure Communities is totally flawed and needs to be abandoned…”

    Let me get this straight…. illegal aliens aren't criminals because some radical airhead called Marty Rosenbluth says that they are "undocumented" but not here illegally? Bwahahahaha! That clown need to be in a frickin' cage!

    Illegal aliens are removable just for being here. Illegally entering the United States is a crime, you geniuses. Who writes this Orwellian claptrap? Sheesh!

    Comment by criminalinvaders on April 13, 2011 at 1:03 am

  2. This is a problematic program that should be put to a halt. Traffic stops shouldn't lead to families being separated. Our politicians should be spending their energy creating opportunities for people to fully contribute and participate here instead of more enforcement strategies that endager us all.

    Comment by bstandsforb on April 13, 2011 at 9:01 am

  3. "Let me get this straight…. illegal aliens aren't criminals" –

    That is correct. A "criminal" is someone who has been convicted of a crime.

    Comment by mdow on April 13, 2011 at 11:41 am

  4. being here illegaly is a crime, therefore they are criminals. They broke a law coming here illegaly

    Comment by ncmommy on April 13, 2011 at 1:41 pm


    Every State that doesn't invest in the constraint of illegal immigration enforcement, is going to be invaded across their state borders. In the frontier state of Arizona that is battling the Dept of InJustice, the Liberal Court system, the open border crackpots as they try save the State from economic collapse, because foreign nationals stealing jobs, stealing entitlement and literary paying nothing into the State coffers. It been proven beyond the shadow of doubt, that other than the TEA PARTY caucus, politicians feel they have no responsibility to slam shut our borders. This is an accurate assessment when president Obama's Leftist backing allows drug and people smuggling allow Mexican trucks go into operation throughout our nation. All free Trade markets agreements are completely unfair to the American people. Our president promised to straighten these unfair treaties, so we have a level playing field; this still hasn't happened.

    California's notoriety is being labeled THE Sanctuary State, that just as Nevada, Arizona have been drowned in debt so is California with a $26 billion dollar deficit. It has been brought on partially by uncontrolled illegal immigration and the drying up of public welfare entitlements, meant for legitimate Americans and residents.


    Like most promises of politicians, they are full of hot air. Even before Obama came to power with his Leftist progressive Czars, previous administrations have ignored the invasions from foreign countries. If they had been serious about stopping illegal aliens flooding this country, they would have made it a felony to enter? They would have constructed the–REAL–double fencing at the border and deploying the Nation Guard. The TEA PARTY will enact a bill to build the double border fence and push hard to enforce a permanent E-Verify, for every American worker; all long time employees or new hire. Nobody in the jurisdiction of United States will be exempt, with the full force of the law coming down on dirty business. In addition "Secure Communities" should be the law of the land, to detect immediately the hundreds of thousands of illegal alien criminals amongst us. Everybody–no matter who is being processed for an infraction or Felony, should be fingerprinted and if illegal, loaded into a ICE van.

    Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) has introduced a bill (H.R.1274) titled "Keeping the Pledge on Immigration Act of 2011" that would increase border security and strengthen interior enforcement. Among the bill’s provisions this legislation would: 1. Will provide up to 4,000 additional national guard troops patrolling the southern border; 2. Will reaffirm language mandating “operational control” of the border as defined in the 2006 Secure Fence Act; 3. Will provide double and even triple layer fencing by September 30, 2014; 4. Will provide additional visa security screening for high risk visas including in-person interviews and data sharing. America is importing poverty at an accelerating rate and billions of dollars are being bled from every American State.

    In the report, Ed Rubenstein, president of ESR Research and a former director of research at the Hudson Institute, reveals that the IRS knowingly allows illegal aliens to defraud taxpayers by getting cash through EITC payments of up to $5,750 for a family of five. The IRS also refuses to implement recommendations from its own Inspector General’s office that could stop massive EITC fraud that costs taxpayers as much as $13 billion a year. Read the complete report at



    Comment by Brittanicus on April 13, 2011 at 5:24 pm

  6. Not true, they have commited a CIVIL violation of the immigration law. They are issued administrative paperwork . They should never be in jail with other criminal who have actually commited crimes, went to trial and found guilty. Get some knowledge before you start ranting , you ignorant. Hasanybodu ever told you is not ok to be racist!

    Comment by nomorehate on April 14, 2011 at 9:58 am

  7. Unlawful presence is not a crime- it is an immigration violation. US immigration laws are civil laws- not criminal. It is absolutely correct to say a person who is unlawfully present or has otherwise violated immigration law is NOT a criminal- unless you disregard rule of law and huge difference between criminal and civil laws.

    Comment by Sara Dady on April 14, 2011 at 12:25 pm

  8. My thoughts exactly. Send them all home.

    Comment by goodbye on April 14, 2011 at 12:52 pm

  9. For every good law there is always some kind of loop holes that should be ironed out. Thanks for pointing things out.

    Comment by Imigration on April 15, 2011 at 1:42 pm

  10. also, you can be undocumented and still come to the united states legally. undocumented does not presuppose illegal entry.

    Comment by immigrant on April 21, 2011 at 5:47 pm

  11. I really, really hope you're joking. So much hate. Take a minute and think about the fact that you're just a person. And that everybody else is just a person. Just like you. (Well, hopefully most people aren't full of as much hate, prejudice, and ignorance as you are. And fear, I can see your fear, the way it's driving your hate.)

    Honestly, I'm scared too — it scares me that people can become so warped as you seem to be.

    Comment by Whythehate on April 23, 2011 at 3:44 pm

  12. But THAT LAW that is being reviewed here was not designed to remove the undocumented. It's like if they started applying that law to remove UNC students who lied about their residency status to get in-state tuition by saying that they've lived here longer than they had. Those folks should face penalities but not with this law or any other law not designed for that. That's the point of this article, that a law is being wrongfully (ILLEGALLY) applied! All you need to get straight is the notion of America's commitment to the rule of law and understand what this article is saying.

    Comment by Sula on April 25, 2011 at 3:47 pm

  13. Throughout the investigation, we examined the program and its data and sought to compare what the program says it is meant to do and what the program is actually doing.

    The data for North Carolina, displayed by county in the above graphic, raised some questions as to whether Secure Communities is functioning within the guidelines that were set when the program was approved.

    What questions where raised in your minds?

    I would like you hear your thoughts on the program.

    Comment by alexbarinka on April 28, 2011 at 12:17 pm