ICE’s PR Campaign Won’t Help “Secure Communities”

ICE’s PR Campaign Won’t Help “Secure Communities”

On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security and its Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) launched a new “community outreach program” to soften ICE’s negative image.  The program, tested in Chicago before launched nation-wide, will facilitate community partnerships “to combat stereotypes, mistrust, and misinformation that people hold about the department and agencies.” The program’s motto: Taking It to the Streets. Immigrant communities have taken it to the streets.  But not in the way ICE had in mind.

They are protesting Secure Communities, a program created under the Obama Administration to deport dangerous criminals.   The program allows ICE to access the immigration status of everyone arrested and fingerprinted, including the innocent, domestic violence victims, and U.S. citizens. The Illinois Commission for Immigration and Refugee Rights found that 77 percent of all immigrants arrested through July 2010 in the program in Illinois had no past criminal convictions.  It called ICE’s new PR campaign “lipstick on a very ugly pig.”

To me, the program is a yet another case where President Obama sets the right tone, but can’t significantly change the Bush-era policies entrenched across government agencies.  Like Secure Communities, the Bush administration’s National Fugitive Operations program (NFOP) was also supposed to focus on dangerous criminal fugitives. However, an examination of the program found that 73 percent of nearly 97,000 arrested by ICE FOP teams between 2003 and 2008 were people without criminal records.  Whether local or federal, under Bush or Obama, the enforcement of these immigration policies have a chilling effect on communities, making them – and all of us – less safe.  This is best illustrated in the stories of women.

I met one such woman in Baltimore, MD, where I’m working with a team of Yale Law students on a film about an immigration raid. In 2007, ICE Fugitive Operations Team arrested 24 Latino-looking men at a Baltimore 7-Eleven; 14 had no criminal convictions.  While there, the mother of one of the detainees told us about her abusive husband.

“He hit me, he hit the kids,” she said.  He was responsible for the death of her three smallest children.  Under the Secure Communities program, this woman and others like her cannot report her husband to authorities without risking deportation.  She has nowhere to turn.  “You try to have a little hope, but when you have nothing, it dies,” she told us.  This is far from the security our communities need.  No PR campaign can change that.