The New York Civil Liberties Union today joined immigrants’ rights and civil rights advocates at a rally at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Manhattan office to call him to withdraw New York from Secure Communities (S-Comm), a federal program that threatens civil rights and weakens public safety by targeting immigrant residents for detention and deportation.
"Governor Cuomo should demonstrate his commitment to New York’s immigrant families and withdraw the state from this destructive program," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU. "S-Comm contradicts our state’s proud tradition of embracing immigrants and it ignores immigrants’ immeasurable contributions to New York’s economy, culture and heritage."
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 likely subjected to immigration detention, too often hundreds of miles from home, and deportation.
In May 2010, New York State quietly entered into an agreement with the federal government regarding S-Comm with the understanding that local jurisdictions could decide for themselves whether to participate in the program. In recent months, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has stated that participation is mandatory. Currently, S-Comm is activated in 27 of New York’s 62 counties.
But momentum to reject S-Comm is building in New York State and across the nation:
- On May 5, Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois withdrew his state from S-Comm – the first state to withdraw from the program.
- On May 9, 38 members of New York’s Senate and Assembly urged Governor Cuomo to follow Governor Quinn’s example and withdraw from the program.
- On May 10, the members of the State Assembly’s Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force urged the governor to "terminate S-Comm in New York," citing similar concerns expressed by the U.S. Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
- On May 13, U.S. Reps. Jose Serrano and Nydia Velasquez wrote the governor, citing “nationwide condemnation” of S-Comm and encouraging the governor to end New York’s participation in the program.
The DHS bills S-Comm as a public safety measure intended to identify and deport dangerous criminals, but ICE data for the New York State jurisdictions currently participating in S-Comm show that about 80 percent of individuals taken into ICE custody were never convicted of a crime. Nationally, only about 20 percent of the people deported through the program were convicted of serious crimes.
"DHS has badly misled New Yorkers about S-Comm,” said NYCLU Advocacy Director Udi Ofer. “This is not a public safety measure – it’s a dragnet that tears apart families, invites racial profiling and creates distrust between police and immigrant communities. Governor Cuomo should stand for what’s right and reject S-Comm."
S-Comm makes immigrants, including naturalized citizens, hesitant to contact the police or report crime out of fear of being detained and deported. Domestic violence victims in particular will not call the police for fear that their family members will end up in immigration detention. The program also invites racial profiling by encouraging police to target anyone who looks or sounds foreign for minor offenses as a pretext for checking their immigration status.
Today’s rally was sponsored by a coalition of organizations that includes Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, New York Immigration Coalition, Families for Freedom, New Immigrant Community Empowerment, the Immigrant Defense Project and the NYCLU, among others.