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The highest priority of any law enforcement agency is to protect the communities it serves. When it comes to enforcing our nation's immigration laws, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) focuses its limited resources on those who have been arrested for breaking criminal laws.

ICE prioritizes the removal of criminal aliens, those who pose a threat to public safety, and repeat immigration violators.

Secure Communities is a simple and common sense way to carry out ICE's priorities. It uses an already-existing federal information-sharing partnership between ICE and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that helps to identify criminal aliens without imposing new or additional requirements on state and local law enforcement. For decades, local jurisdictions have shared the fingerprints of individuals who are arrested or booked into custody with the FBI to see if they have a criminal record. Under Secure Communities, the FBI automatically sends the fingerprints to DHS to check against its immigration databases. If these checks reveal that an individual is unlawfully present in the United States or otherwise removable due to a criminal conviction, ICE takes enforcement action – prioritizing the removal of individuals who present the most significant threats to public safety as determined by the severity of their crime, their criminal history, and other factors – as well as those who have repeatedly violated immigration laws.

Secure Communities imposes no new or additional requirements on state and local law enforcement. The federal government, not the state or local law enforcement agency, determines what immigration enforcement action, if any, is appropriate.

Only federal DHS officers make immigration enforcement decisions, and they do so only after an individual is arrested for a criminal violation of local, state, or federal law, separate and apart from any violations of immigration law.

The Basics

More than 283,000 convicted criminal aliens have been removed as a result of Secure Communities interoperability, by which the FBI automatically sends fingerprints of anyone arrested or booked by police for a state or local criminal offense to DHS to check against its immigration and enforcement records so that ICE can determine whether that person is a criminal alien or falls under ICE's civil immigration enforcement priorities.

Since its inception in 2008 with 14 jurisdictions, Secure Communities has expanded to all 3,181 jurisdictions within 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five (5) U.S. Territories. Full implementation was completed on January 22, 2013.

How Does Secure Communities Work?

ICE receives annual appropriations from Congress sufficient to remove a limited number of the more than 10 million individuals estimated to be in the U.S. who lack lawful status or are removable because of a criminal conviction. Given this reality, ICE must set sensible priorities.

Under the Obama administration, ICE has set clear and common-sense priorities for immigration enforcement focused on identifying and removing those aliens with criminal convictions. In addition to criminal aliens, ICE focuses on recent illegal entrants, repeat violators who game the immigration system, those who fail to appear at immigration hearings, and fugitives who have already been ordered removed by an immigration judge.

These priorities have led to significant results. In fiscal year 2013, ICE's prioritized, targeted enforcement resulted in the removal of more than 368,000 aliens, of which 98 percent fell into one of ICE's stated civil immigration enforcement priorities.

Secure Communities: From Arrest to Release or Removal

When state and local law enforcement arrest or book someone into custody for a violation of a criminal offense, they generally fingerprint the person. After fingerprints are taken at the jail, the state and local authorities electronically submit the fingerprints to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). This data is then stored in the FBI's criminal databases. After running the fingerprints against those databases, the FBI sends the state and local authorities a record of the person's criminal history.

With Secure Communities, once the FBI checks the fingerprints, the FBI automatically sends them to DHS, so that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can determine if that person is also subject to removal (deportation). This change, whereby the fingerprints are sent to DHS in addition to the FBI, fulfills a 2002 Congressional mandate for the FBI to share information with ICE, and is consistent with a 2008 federal law that instructs ICE to identify criminal aliens for removal. Secure Communities does not require any changes in the procedures of local law enforcement agencies or jails.

If the person has been previously encountered and fingerprinted by an immigration official and there is a digitized record, then the immigration database will register a “match.” ICE then reviews other databases to determine whether the person is here illegally or is otherwise removable.

In cases where the person appears from these checks to be removable, ICE generally issues a detainer on the person, requesting that the state or local jail facility hold the individual up to an extra 48 hours (excluding weekends) to allow for an interview of the person. Following the interview, ICE decides whether to seek the person's removal.

In making these decisions, ICE considers a number of factors, including the person's criminal history, immigration history (such as whether the person was previously deported or has an outstanding removal order from an immigration judge), family ties, duration of stay in the U.S., significant medical issues, and other circumstances. In many instances involving lower-level criminals or people who are not convicts, re-entrants, or fugitives, ICE offers the person the option of voluntary return. A voluntary return allows the person to enter the U.S. lawfully in the future.

When someone goes into immigration proceedings, the court process is run independent of the state criminal justice system. As a result, illegal immigrants can be removed before the criminal case is complete. There are a variety of reasons that the local arrest may not result in a criminal conviction. However, all of those removed are guilty of an immigration violation, and removed pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Enforcing America's immigration laws is a federal responsibility. Under the Homeland Security Act of 2002, this responsibility falls to DHS, specifically U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Since 2008, Congress has expanded ICE's immigration enforcement obligations – directing ICE to create a strategy to identify criminal aliens and prioritize them for removal.

In light of this direction and the fact that ICE receives limited resources, ICE must prioritize which of the estimated 10 million illegal immigrants in the United States and other removable aliens to pursue. In a memo issued by ICE Director John Morton in June 2010, ICE outlined the way it prioritizes removals. Specifically, ICE prioritizes the removal of those who pose a danger to national security or public safety, repeat violators who game the immigration system, those who fail to appear at immigration hearings, and fugitives who have already been ordered removed by an immigration judge. Because the administration is committed to using immigration enforcement resources in the way most beneficial to public safety, the primary focus is on convicted criminals, with a priority on aggravated felons.

As a result, record numbers of criminal aliens have been removed, with Secure Communities playing a key role in ICE's ability to fulfill this public safety priority. Between October 2008 and October 2011, the number of convicted criminals that ICE removed from the United States increased 89 percent, while the number of aliens removed without criminal convictions dropped by 29 percent. These trends are due in significant part to the implementation and expansion of Secure Communities. While Secure Communities is only responsible for a limited percentage of ICE's total removals and returns, it has helped ICE identify a more significant percentage of the convicted criminals that ICE removes or returns.

Over time, the percentage of serious offenders removed through Secure Communities will continue to increase, as those convicted of misdemeanors will decrease. This reflects the fact that people who commit more serious crimes serve longer sentences and consequently take longer to come into ICE custody. Since Secure Communities was first activated in October 2008, the percentage of misdemeanant removals has decreased from 40 percent of all removals in fiscal year 2009 to 29 percent of all removals following identification through Secure Communities in fiscal year 2011.

Secure Communities reduces opportunities for racial or ethnic profiling because all people booked into jails are fingerprinted. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and DHS' Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) are currently implementing additional safeguards to further protect Secure Communities from those who may seek to use it improperly.

Several initiatives to achieve these goals are underway:

  • In order to identify jurisdictions that may be making improper arrests that could result in identification of aliens through Secure Communities, ICE and CRCL have retained a leading statistician who is examining data for each jurisdiction where Secure Communities is activated, comparing data for aliens identified by Secure Communities to relevant arrest-rate data, and identifying any indications of racial profiling. Statistical outliers will be subject to an in-depth analysis. This analysis will take place four times per year to ensure consistent monitoring, and the assessments will be shared quarterly with the Department of Justice. Statistical outliers in local jurisdictions will be subject to an in-depth analysis and DHS and ICE will take appropriate steps to resolve any issues. View the Overview of Quarterly Statistical Monitoring (PDF | 260 KB).
  • To prevent and address possible abuses of Secure Communities, ICE and CRCL are working together to develop a new training program for state and local law enforcement agencies in jurisdictions where Secure Communities is activated. These training materials are designed to reduce confusion regarding Secure Communities and help ensure that it is not misused. Four video briefings, with supporting materials, have already been released, with more to follow throughout calendar year 2012.
  • ICE has revised the detainer form ICE submits to local jurisdictions to emphasize the longstanding guidance that state and local authorities are not to detain an individual for more than 48 hours. The form also requires local law enforcement to provide arrestees with a copy, which has a number to call if they believe their civil rights have been violated.
  • DHS and ICE take allegations of racial profiling and other complaints relating to civil rights and civil liberties violations very seriously. Formal allegations are referred to CRCL, which is tasked with guarding against violations in DHS programs (Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Complaint Form in English (PDF | 7 pages - 214 KB) and Spanish (PDF | 7 pages - 219 KB) and in seven other languages). CRCL notifies the Department of Justice, which has jurisdiction to investigate violations of civil rights by state and local officers of all investigations undertaken. ICE fully supports all Department of Justice or CRCL investigations, including by taking action to ensure witnesses and complainants are able to remain in the United States. View the Secure Communities Complaints Protocol (PDF | 273 KB | 5 pages).

To contact the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, please email crcl@dhs.gov, or call 1-866-644-8360 (toll free) or 1-866-644-8361 (toll free TTY).

To report allegations of racial profiling, due process violations, or other possible violations of civil rights or civil liberties related to Secure Communities, all complaints should be filed with the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties complaint intake website.

 

To contact Enforcement and Removal Operations regarding interoperability, please call (202) 732-3100. For media inquiries about Secure Communities, contact ICE's Office of Public Affairs at (202) 732-4242.

To report allegations of racial profiling, due process violations, or other possible violations of civil rights or civil liberties related to Secure Communities, all complaints should be filed with the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties complaint intake website.