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Publish Date: 
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Los Angeles Times

The federal government's Secure Communities program has been as controversial as it has been counterproductive, so we're glad the Obama administration's new approach to immigration enforcement will mean the program's demise. Yet we also harbor some skepticism about its successor, the Priority Enforcement Program— and wonder whether there will be much difference.

Under Secure Communities, local police forwarded fingerprints of detained criminal suspects to the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. Those agencies checked the prints against federal databases to find people with serious criminal records who were in the country illegally (thus targeted for removal).

Yet more than half of those eventually deported under the program had minor or no criminal records. Families were torn apart, and several thousand legal citizens were detained. In the worst cases, detainees languished in jails awaiting federal action without criminal charges or court orders, violations of the 4th Amendment for which federal courts have held the local agencies liable. The program generated so much mistrust that immigrant communities stopped cooperating with police in routine criminal matters. As local agencies began dropping out, the Department of Homeland Security tried in 2011 to fix the worst of the problems, with little effect.