NYCLU Applauds Gov. Cuomo for Suspending Federal Deportation Program in New York State

June 1, 2011 —  The New York Civil Liberties Union today applauded Gov. Andrew Cuomo for suspending the federal Secure Communities (S-Comm) deportation program in New York State that tears apart families, threatens civil rights and weakens public safety.

“Gov. Cuomo has sent a clear message that New York State respects the values of freedom, justice and human dignity,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “The governor’s decision ends New York’s participation in a program that was sold as a safety measure but instead made us less safe by making vulnerable communities afraid to call the police for help or to report a crime. Instead of protecting us, Secure Communities has been used as a shortcut to deportation for people who may have done nothing wrong.”

Under S-Comm, everyone who is arrested and fingerprinted by local police has their biometric information checked against Immigration and Customs Enforcement databases. If there is a match – whether correct or not – that individual is subject to immigration detention, usually hundreds of miles from home, and deportation.

S-Comm makes immigrants afraid to report crimes out of fear that they or their loved ones will be deported. It also invites rampant racial profiling by encouraging the police to make pre-textual arrests in order to run checks on immigration status. In December, NYPD Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said S-Comm could cause problems for the Department.

“We want people to feel free to contact the police, to walk into police stations; communicate with the police,” he said. “To the extent that [Secure Communities] may have some effect on that, that’s problematic.”

In May 2010, New York quietly entered into an agreement with the federal government to authorize S-Comm in the state with the understanding that local jurisdictions could decide for themselves whether to participate in the program. While ICE pitches S-Comm as a public safety measure to identify and deport dangerous criminals, ICE data for New York State show that under S-Comm, more than 70 percent of immigrants transferred into ICE custody and more than 80 percent of immigrants deported had not been convicted of a crime.

A letter recently released by a former ICE contractor revealed that ICE intentionally misled New York to obtain the state’s participation in Secure Communities. The Department of Homeland Security’s office of the inspector general is also investigating the troubled program.

“The federal government misled New Yorkers about S-Comm,” said NYCLU Advocacy Director Udi Ofer. “The program is not about public safety – it’s about targeting immigrants for deportation. It invites racial profiling, threatens basic civil rights and wastes police resources.”

In recent months, ICE has made contradictory statements on whether participation is mandatory. Before today’s announcement, S-Comm was activated in 27 of New York’s 62 counties.

“In the counties that have joined S-Comm, this suspension should come as a huge relief. It should provide a measure of security to women who need to report crimes of domestic violence and should help police work with members of immigrant communities to solve crimes and protect public safety,” Lieberman said. “Secure Communities was a bad deal for New Yorkers, and we’re gratified the governor has suspended it. Bravo Gov. Cuomo.”