Secure Communities, a federal immigration-enforcement program designed to identify and deport violent illegal immigrants, has increasingly targeted and deported undocumented immigrants with no criminal backgrounds.
Nationwide, according to a Florida Center for Investigative Reporting analysis of data from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 28 percent of the 75,461 immigrants deported since Secure Communities’ inception in 2008 have been “non-criminal” immigrants, while just 23 percent of those detained and deported have convictions for violent crimes such as murder or rape. Federal officials classify “non-criminals” as those who have been booked by police for an alleged crime but never convicted.
Secure Communities has been particularly effective in detaining and deporting non-criminals from Florida, where 42 percent of those detained did not have criminal convictions. Only 20 percent of those detained in Florida had felony convictions for violent crimes.
FCIR analyzed national county-by-county data from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from October 2008 to November 2010.
In Orange County, Fla., where the program has been active since April 2010, 63 percent of those deported were not convicted of a crime.
South Florida’s three counties were close behind. In Palm Beach County, non-criminals accounted for 62 percent of detentions through Secure Communities, while Broward County registered 57 percent and Miami-Dade County 51 percent.
These numbers are significantly higher than the non-criminal deportation rate in Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Maricopa County, Ariz., where only 26 percent of the deportations were for non-criminals, despite that county’s reputation for tough enforcement of immigration laws.
Other populous Florida counties posted numbers closer to the national average. In Hillsborough County, 37 percent were non-criminals. In Duval County, the amount was 21 percent. Just 19 percent of immigrants deported from Pinellas County had not been convicted of a crime.
Advocates for Florida’s immigrant community say the results of FCIR’s data analysis raise concerns about racial profiling in Florida. While Secure Communities is marketed as a way to expel violent criminal immigrants, felons represent a minority of those detained through the program statewide, ICE data shows. Advocates fear Secure Communities encourages local law enforcement officials to question without probable cause the residency status of people they encounter.
“It’s clearly an enhancement to a pre-existing fear,” said Randy McGrorty, who works with immigrants as executive director of Catholic Legal Services in Miami. “In places where there’s a huge immigrant community, one person can be pulled over for driving without a license, then taken to jail, and that event gets broadcast to the entire immigrant community.”
With Secure Communities, law enforcement can indeed use traffic stops to identify illegal immigrants. An April 2009 traffic stop in Palm Beach Gardens shows how a traffic violation can result in deportation.
In the incident, which FCIR verified through public records, Palm Beach Gardens Police Officer Thomas Gitto pulled over a U.S. citizen who made an illegal right on red at Northlake and MacArthur boulevards. The driver, a home construction contractor, was headed to a job and had three undocumented workers in his truck.
“I had two guys in the cab with me and one in the back,” said the driver, who spoke to FCIR on the condition of anonymity since he has admitted to employing undocumented workers. “The cop told them to get out and he asked them where they were from and if they have driver’s licenses or other ID.”
Gitto notified the U.S. Border Patrol after discovering the passengers were illegal immigrants, police records show. Immigration officials then detained the workers. Two have been deported, and the third is challenging the arrest with the help of attorneys from the University of Miami law school.
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