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New York Withdraws from Secure Communities

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo

June 2, 2011 By

“It appears the program in New York is failing in this regard and is actually undermining law enforcement.” -- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo

New York joined Illinois Wednesday in backing out of a federal program to screen jail inmates for immigration violations, as liberals and activists for immigrants step up their efforts around the country to block the program, called Secure Communities.

These state-level revolts against the Obama administration’s aggressive efforts to deport criminal suspects stand in stark contrast to the Arizona-style laws giving local police more power to enforce immigration offenses. But both approaches face a common obstacle: opposition from the federal government.

In a statement, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said he was withdrawing from Secure Communities because it was ineffective in its stated goal of deporting serious felons. “It appears the program in New York is failing in this regard and is actually undermining law enforcement,” the statement said.

Numerous police officials and prosecutors voiced support for Cuomo’s decision, as did prominent Latino politicians and advocates of immigrant rights.

Cuomo’s reasoning echoes that of Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, who decided in early May to halt his state’s participation in Secure Communities. In a letter to the federal government, Quinn said data from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) showed three in 10 people deported from Illinois under the program “have never been convicted of any crime, much less a serious one.”

“In fact,” Quinn added, “by ICE’s own measure, less than 20 percent of those who have been deported from Illinois under the program have ever been convicted of a serious crime.”

The California Legislature is advancing legislation to let individual counties opt out of Secure Communities. But John Morton, the director of ICE, told Southern California public radio station KPCC that states cannot pick and choose what information they share with the federal government, noting that states already share inmate information with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“An individual state can’t come to the federal government and say, ‘We don’t want the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to share information' or seek to prevent that information sharing,” Morton told KPCC. “That is between federal departments.”

That stance has not headed off debate over Secure Communities. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is under pressure to withdraw from the program, which he only recently agreed to participate in, writes the Boston Globe. Secure Communities has also emerged as an issue in the electon for mayor of Denver, reports the Denver Post. At the federal level, the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general is looking into the effectiveness of Secure Communities.

Reprint courtesy of, a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Center on the States that reports and analyzes trends in state policy.

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