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Secure Communities

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The highest priority of any law enforcement agency is to protect the safety and security of the communities it serves.

ICE prioritizes the removal of public safety and national security threats, those who have violated our nation’s immigration laws, including those who have failed to comply with a final order of removal, and those who have engaged in fraud/willful misrepresentation in connection with official government matters.

Secure Communities is a simple and common sense way to carry out ICE's enforcement priorities for those aliens detained in the custody of another law enforcement agency (LEA). It uses a federal information-sharing partnership between DHS and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that helps to identify in-custody aliens without imposing new or additional requirements on state and local law enforcement. For decades, local jurisdictions have shared the fingerprints of individuals arrested and/or booked into custody with the FBI to see if those individuals have a criminal record and outstanding warrants. 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, 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 risk to public safety – as well as those who have violated the nation’s immigration laws.

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

ICE completed full implementation of Secure Communities to all 3,181 jurisdictions within 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. Territories on January 22, 2013. While the biometric interoperability has remained constant since full implementation was achieved, ICE’s operational posture under SC was Secure Communities was temporarily suspended by DHS policy from November 20, 2014, through January 25, 2017.

Since its reactivation on January 25, 2017, through Executive Order No. 13768, , entitled Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, more than 3,730 convicted criminal aliens have been removed as a result of Secure Communities.

How Does Secure Communities Work?

Through the aforementioned Executive Order, DHS has been provided clear and common-sense priorities for immigration enforcement focused on the faithful execution of the immigration laws of the United States, as passed by the Congress. Secure Communities will utilize all available data systems and Criminal Alien Program resources to identify and take enforcement actions (to include the lodging of detainers) against criminal and other priority aliens while they are in the custody of another law enforcement or correctional agency. This will prevent their release back into the community, and thus stop the cycle of recidivism perpetrated by many of these criminal and immigration offenders.

Secure Communities had a long and successful history prior to its suspension as indicated above. In fact, from its inception in 2008 through FY14 and since its reactivation on January 25, 2017, Secure Communities interoperability led to the removal of over 308,700 criminal aliens from the U.S.

What is Secure Communities?

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) prioritizes its enforcement efforts on the arrest and removal of public safety and national security threats, those who have violated our nation’s immigration laws, including those who have failed to comply with a final order of removal, and those who have engaged in fraud/willful misrepresentation in connection with official government matters. Secure Communities is a simple and common sense tool that helps ICE effectuate these priorities. Utilizing a federal information-sharing partnership between ICE and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Secure Communities helps to identify removable aliens who have been arrested and booked for violations of criminal law.

Under Secure Communities, the FBI, as mandated by statute, automatically sends these fingerprints to DHS to check against its immigration databases. If these checks reveal that an individual may be unlawfully present in the United States or otherwise removable due to a criminal conviction, ICE determines what, if any, enforcement action to take – prioritizing the removal of those 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 violated immigration laws. The federal government, not the state or local law enforcement agency, determines what immigration enforcement action, if any, is appropriate.

How does Secure Communities work?

When state and local law enforcement officers arrest and book someone into custody for a violation of a criminal offense, they generally fingerprint the person. After fingerprints are taken, the state and local authorities submit the fingerprints to the FBI. The FBI runs these fingerprints through its database of criminal records and sends the state and local authorities a record of the person's criminal history.

Under Secure Communities, DHS receives these fingerprints from the FBI so that ICE can determine if that person is also subject to removal (deportation). This process fulfills a 2002 Congressional mandate for federal law enforcement agencies to share information that is relevant to determine the admissibility or deportability of an alien. (See 8 U.S.C. § 1722(a)(2).)

ICE generally relies on biometric confirmation of the alien’s identity and a records check of federal databases that affirmatively indicate, by themselves or in addition to other reliable information or statements made by the alien to an immigration officer, and/or the reliable evidence that affirmatively indicates the alien either lacks immigration status, or, notwithstanding such status, is removable under U.S. immigration law.

In cases where ICE has probable cause of removability, ICE typically issues a detainer, requesting that the state or local jail facility hold the individual up to 48 hours (excluding weekends and holidays) to allow ICE to assume custody.

What are the benefits of Secure Communities?

ICE's enforcement priorities include the identification and removal of criminal aliens, other aliens who pose a threat to public safety, and aliens who have violated our nation's immigration laws. The most effective way to identify such aliens is by checking the immigration status of individuals arrested and booked into custody for violations of criminal laws.

Under Secure Communities, DHS receives this information from the FBI, determines the individual's immigration status, and then makes a decision about what immigration enforcement action, if any, should be taken. By focusing on individuals who have been arrested and booked into custody for alleged violations of criminal laws, Secure Communities has proven to be one of ICE's most important tools for identifying and removing criminal aliens as well as repeat immigration violators.  However, that is not the only benefit of Secure Communities. Other benefits include:

  • Secure Communities is designed to ensure that the responsibility of immigration enforcement remains with federal officials. It does not authorize or permit state or local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law.
  • Information is shared in near real time and is based on biometrics - in this case, fingerprints, which are accurate, reliable, and virtually impossible to forge.

Can a state or local law enforcement agency choose not to have fingerprints it submits to the FBI checked against DHS' system?

This question has been asked in many contexts, and it is important to clarify that the information-sharing partnership between DHS and the FBI that is the cornerstone of Secure Communities is mandated by federal law, which means that state and local jurisdictions cannot prohibit information-sharing between agencies in this respect. The fingerprints state and local law enforcement submit to the FBI to be checked against the DOJ's biometric identification system for criminal history records are automatically sent to DHS's biometric system to check against its immigration and law enforcement records. The United States government has determined that a jurisdiction cannot choose to have the fingerprints it submits to the federal government processed only for criminal history checks. Further, jurisdictions cannot ask that the identifications that result from DHS's processing of the fingerprints not be shared with local ICE field offices in that jurisdiction. It is ICE, and not the state or local law enforcement agency, that determines what immigration enforcement action, if any, is appropriate.

How will ICE ensure victims of domestic violence and other crimes are protected?

ICE developed a policy specifically to protect victims of domestic violence and other crimes and to ensure these crimes continue to be reported and prosecuted. This policy directs all ICE officers and attorneys to exercise appropriate discretion to ensure victims of and witnesses to crimes are not penalized by removal.

What protocols are in place to monitor state and local conduct to guard against profiling?

DHS and ICE take allegations of racial profiling and other complaints relating to civil rights and civil liberties violations very seriously, and have created a complaint system whereby individuals or organizations who believe civil rights violations have occurred can file a complaint.

Formal allegations are referred to the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL), which is tasked with guarding against violations in DHS programs. ICE fully supports all CRCL investigations, including taking action to ensure witnesses and complainants are able to remain in the United States.

Additionally, in all ICE detention facilities, ICE prominently advertises a 24-hour phone number for those who feel they have been the targets of racial or ethnic profiling and ensures  complaints are transmitted to CRCL, the Department of Justice, or other appropriate office.