Nations and organizations around the globe observed yesterday as International Migrants Day. Twenty-two years ago, on December 18, 1990 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, affirming the fundamental principle of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights."
Unfortunately, this year the United States' treatment of migrants has been dismal. Nearly 400,000 people have been deported, often without adequate due process. Anti-immigrant and xenophobic laws have been passed in state legislatures of Alabama, Arizona, South Carolina, and Utah. The US has increased fear and isolation in our migrant communities.
Last week the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division (DOJ), to its credit, made public the findings of its investigation, initiated in March 2009, into civil rights violations in Arizona by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office (MSCO) headed by the notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The investigation uncovered what many local advocates have suspected for years: that Sheriff Arpaio and his subordinates engaged in a pattern and practice of racial profiling against Latinos and also unlawful retaliation against individuals critical of the Sheriff's policies.
Shortly after the DOJ's findings became public, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) ended its agreement allowing certain Maricopa County deputies to act as immigration agents on behalf of the federal government, a step community leaders have demanded for years. These agreements with local law enforcement, called 287(g) agreements, are authorized by Congress under section 287(g) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act to allow local police to act as immigration officers. In ending the agreement with Maricopa, DHS acknowledges that abuse of authority will occur when law enforcement agencies, especially those like Arpaio's, get in the immigration business.
However, while DOJ's investigation and DHS' suspension of the 287(g) agreement with Maricopa are steps forward, a hugely problematic situation remains. DHS continues to have a relationship with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office through another program, Secure Communities, the federal deportation dragnet program, which will continue its legacy of mass deportations and destruction of communities.
Through Secure Communities, local law enforcement agencies automatically provide immigration authorities fingerprint information for every person arrested. After comparing the fingerprint information with its own databases, ICE can either try to deport the person or store the information in a massive database for future use. Secure Communities is already used in 1882 jurisdictions and 44 states, even in places where local officials and organizers have asked not to have any part in the program and in jurisdictions with human rights records as horrific as Maricopa County.
Think about the consequences of such a widespread program. With Secure Communities, immigration agencies automatically learn the identity of any non-citizen in the custody of local police and can initiate deportation. This is the case even if the arrest was illegal and even if the charges are dropped or never prosecuted.
Secure Communities Through a Human Rights Lens: