In Abrupt Shift, ICE Announces Secure Communities to be Imposed on States

Saturday, August 6, 2011

George Tzamaras / Jenny Werwa
202-507-7649 / 202-507-7628 /

WASHINGTON, DC -- In a late Friday announcement, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) declared that the memoranda of agreement (MOAs) previously executed with 42 states to implement the Secure Communities program were “terminated,” opining that no agreement with states or local law enforcement was necessary. The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) questions how the agency’s unilateral move can be consistent with the commitment ICE made in June to examine widespread concerns about this controversial program.

“With three governors publicly opposing the use of Secure Communities in their states, ICE is now imposing the program on them rather than working to respond to their concerns,” said AILA President Eleanor Pelta. Since the program was launched in 2008, ICE had been steadily negotiating with states to agree to the MOAs that it now deems unnecessary. According to ICE, the program will be operational in all states by 2013.

“This is an abrupt about-face that will only add to the confusion about Secure Communities,” said Pelta. In recent months, ICE has faced criticism from the governors of New York, Illinois, and Massachusetts as well as several leading police chiefs and community leaders. Moreover, several leaders in Congress alleged that ICE was giving government officials different stories in response to repeated requests to suspend or even terminate participation. “The states stopped buying it, and ICE has just stopped trying to sell it,” said Pelta.

“The timing of the announcement calls into question whether DHS is truly interested in addressing mounting concerns voiced by local law enforcement and immigrant communities in the two years the program has been in existence.” The announcement comes only weeks after ICE appointed a national task force to respond to growing concerns about Secure Communities and on the eve of public hearings in several cities. “This sudden reversal is extremely surprising and raises doubts about the sincerity of ICE’s commitment to meaningful review,” said Pelta.

Though ICE claims Secure Communities targets serious convicted felons and national security threats for deportation, critics have pointed out that it mainly nets low-level or non-criminal immigration violators. ICE statistics show that nearly 60% of those arrested are not serious criminals. “Secure Communities casts too wide a net. It's not achieving the agency's top priorities,” said Pelta. “By destroying relationships between immigrant communities and local law enforcement, the program actually makes communities insecure. This is not smart enforcement."

Laura Lichter, who serves as the president-elect of AILA, is currently a member of the ICE Secure Communities Task Force.


The American Immigration Lawyers Association is the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 11080609.