It was the unusual number of calls that led the Portland Human Rights Commission to check out Secure Communities. The calls were coming from members of the immigrant community who were concerned about the increase in deportations, and asking for help for family members who had been stopped by police and ended up being deported, said Maria Lisa Johnson, director of the Portland Human Rights Commission.
The calls initiated research by the Human Rights Commission on the local police involvement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. This past spring, the commission began a process involving the Portland Police Bureau, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, the American Civil Liberties Union, and an array of immigrant and cultural organizations, all to determine how local police interact with the federal immigration agents. The commission released its report in December.
Secure Communities, or S-Comm, as its critics call it, is an information-sharing program of ICE that collects fingerprint information from immigrants arrested and held in local jails, regardless of charges or convictions. The fingerprints are then entered into the Department of Homeland Security databases. If there is a match and the person is identified as illegally in the United States, ICE can request that the local jailer detain that person for up to 48 hours while it considers enforcement action, including deportation.
In the mere 10 months it’s been enforced in the Portland metro area, the program has drummed up a host of human rights concerns, including fostering a bias against immigrants, undermining community policing, and turning local jails into immigration extension offices. The program and ICE are also criticized nationally for claiming that Secure Communities is about deporting serious criminals, when many of those deported had only minor criminal records, such as traffic violations, or none at all.
“There is an absolute fear,” Johnson said. “As an undocumented individual whose family relies on your income to be able to succeed, then you’re pulled out of that community. That’s a huge fear and risk.” Continue reading