Exploring – or Debunking – the Promise of Secure Communities

Hot off the press for those who may have followed the rationale for and implementation of Secure Communities (launched in March of 2008):

Six years after the federal government opened an immigration enforcement program intended to improve public safety, deporting hundreds of thousands of people, many of them convicted criminals, a new study has concluded that the program has had “no observable effect on the overall crime rate.”


Here’s the forthcoming study in The Journal of Law and Economics, November 2014:


Does immigration enforcement actually reduce crime? Surprisingly, little evidence exists either way—despite the fact that deporting noncitizens who commit crimes has been a central feature of American immigration law since the early twentieth century. We capitalize on a natural policy experiment to address the question and, in the process, provide the first empirical analysis of the most important deportation initiative to be rolled out in decades. The policy initiative we study is “Secure Communities,” a program designed to enable the federal government to check the immigration status of every person arrested for a crime by local police. Before this program, the government checked the immigration status of only a small fraction of arrestees. Since its launch, the program has led to over a quarter of a million detentions. We exploit the slow rollout of the program across more than 3,000 US counties to isolate the effect of Secure Communities on local crime rates. Moreover, we refine those estimates using rich data on the number of immigrants detained under the program in each county and month—data obtained from the federal government through extensive FOIA requests. Our results show that Secure Communities led to no meaningful reductions in the FBI index crime rate. Nor has it reduced rates of violent crime—homicides, rape, robbery, or aggravated assault. This evidence shows that the program has not served its central objective of making communities safer.


The 50-page article, Policing Immigration, is available here:


Does this mean that immigrants who have committed serious crimes have no impact?

As noted in this article:

How is this possible, given that 29 percent of the deportees studied had in fact committed “at least one aggravated felony or of at least two felonies punishable by more than a year in prison”? The study’s authors suggest the answer might have to do with the rest of the deportees, many of whom committed only immigration-related crimes or no crimes at all. If the total group of deportees is no more or less law-abiding than other residents of the communities they’re deported out of, it would follow logically that crime rates would ultimately be unaffected.


I believe that, at stake are: 1) a purported assertion (hypothesis to us) that Secure Communities, that casts such a broad net, will lower crime; 2) the financial burden and resources that must be deployed; and that 3) corralling so many non-offenders (other than their undocumented status) and individuals with minor offenses is ethically justified (given that many families are torn apart) when the impact after 6 years has failed to make our communities safer.

Certainly, criminals need to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

There already are laws governing removability:

Specifically, immigrants can be deported if they commit either what is called a “crime of moral turpitude” under certain conditions described in this article, or an “aggravated felony,” unless the crime counts as a petty offense. In addition, certain crimes are specifically listed within the immigration laws as being grounds of deportability.


Source pertaining to removability from Findlaw:


And, the Padilla decision requires that criminal attorneys be well aware of immigration laws governing removal, absent which they themselves may face consequences:

Padilla v. Kentucky, 253 S. W. 3d 482 (decided March 31, 2010)

Changes to immigration law have dramatically raised the stakes of a noncitizen’s criminal conviction. While once there was only a narrow class of deportable offenses and judges wielded broad discretionary authority to prevent deportation, immigration reforms have expanded the class of deportable offenses and limited judges’ authority to alleviate deportation’s harsh consequences. Because the drastic measure of deportation or removal is now virtually inevitable for a vast number of noncitizens convicted of crimes, the importance of accurate legal advice for noncitizens accused of crimes has never been more important. Thus, as a matter of federal law, deportation is an integral part of the penalty that may be imposed on noncitizen defendants who plead guilty to specified crimes. Pp. 2–6.


High density offenders and offenders whose offenses are serious are fairly known entities subject to criminal sanctions pursuant to our laws, and subject to removability. It will be interesting to see what consequences/changes – if any – this study will bring forth.

The promise of Secure Communities:

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

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


And the reality of the priority: removal of criminal aliens who pose a threat to public safety:

According to DHS data, in Fiscal Year (FY) 2011, 26% of all Secure Communities deportations were immigrants with Level 1 convictions; 19% of those deported had Level 2 convictions; and 29% were individuals convicted of Level 3 crimes (minor crimes resulting in sentences of less than one year). Twenty-six percent of those deported had immigration violations and no criminal convictions.




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