In 2011, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported a record-breaking 397,000 immigrants from our shores and detained nearly that number in detention centers across the country. 2011 followed another record breaking year, 2010, when 392,000 immigrants were removed from our borders. And, according to a report by the Applied Research Center, a growing number of deportees are parents, with 46,000 parents of U.S citizen children deported in the first 6 months of 2011 alone. As our federal government begins mandating policies across the country that work to speed the deportation of our nation's workers, parents, and neighbors, we must ask ourselves whether these policies are working to protect our country or are making it less safe.
Although the stated goal of many of the new immigration programs, such as the Secure Communities program and 287(g) is to help ICE prioritize "the removal of criminal aliens, those who pose a threat to public safety, and repeat immigration violators," the programs in effect work to seperate families, create widespread fear of local law enforcement officials, and hasten the deportation of non-criminal residents. Through the Secure Communities program, local and state law enforcement officials must automatically share the fingerprints of anyone they arrest or book with the Department of Homeland Security where ICE determines if that person should be subject to deportation. The result, as indicated by the staggering deportation numbers above, is that most immigrants, be they criminal offenders or not, are immediately removed from the country. In fact, only about 55% of deportees in 2011 had criminal records.
What proponents of these strict immigration policies may not realize is that these policies do not only adversely affect many immigrants and their families, but in fact, they make whole communities, neighborhoods, and cities unsafe. When federal immigration enforcement use local police and jails to detain non-citizens, any interaction an undocemented immigrant has with police officials can lead to ICE involvement, and subsequently, detention and deportation. This means that victims of domestic violence who call the police for help may find themselves in deportation proceedings. Similarly, crime witnesses who come forward and offer their assistance to law enforcement may end up immediately detained and deported. The result is a deepending mistrust between law enforcement and the people that they serve to protect, citizens and non-citizens alike. While the goal of the program is to rid our country of criminal offenders, these policies help ensure that criminals remain in our neighborhoods by wasting police resources on immigration enforcement.
Additionally, these programs fail to examine the impact that these deportations have on immigrant families and children. As a result of the 2011 deportations, over 5,100 U.S citizen children were placed in the foster care system. According to the estimates by the Applied Research Center, if we continue deportations at this rate, in the next five years, at least 15,000 more children could be placed in the foster care system and face threats to reunification with their mothers and fathers. Not only does this number present a tremendous economic strain on our country's already tight budgets, but these deportations will also have an immeasurable emotional impact upon our nations families and communities.
As Secure Communities will begin to be mandated in every jurisdiction throughout the country beginning in March 2013, our government must seriously take into consideration the impact these programs have on our nation's security and determine whether we are willing to risk the safety of our neighborhoods and the well being of our families in order to remove undocumented immigrants from our country.
Photo Credit: jim.greenhill