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In an effort to quell the growing backlash against the Obama administration’s extralegal expansion of its fundamentally flawed Secure Communities program, the White House published a deeply misleading blog post this week regarding the efficacy of Secure Communities in identifying convicted criminals for removal.

As White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Cecila Muñoz says in her post, statistics do matter. The only problem is that the statistics she cites are not from the Secure Communities program but rather reflect all deportations from the United States. More importantly, the statistics the administration draws from classify all traffic offenses – including offenses such as driving without a license – as “criminal.” This misleading use of data allows the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to boost its “criminal immigrant” removal statistics while criminalizing a large swath of the U.S. immigrant population.[1]  If the White House were to limit its data to the Secure Communities program, it would be forced to admit that the majority of people deported had committed no crime or had committed only a minor offense.

The administration also fails to point out that in fiscal year 2011, ICE changed its data entry practices to include individuals charged with a certain crime, even if they were never convicted. Moreover, ICE now can "promote" individuals charged or convicted of two low-level crimes to a higher criminal classification.[2]  For example, someone who has been charged with just two traffic offenses could be included in ICE’s statistics as a “serious criminal immigrant.” With these changes, ICE magically adjusted Secure Communities criminal deportation statistics for prior fiscal years.[3]  The White House’s reliance on ICE’s statistics is dubious at best.

Even accepting ICE’s Secure Communities statistics on their face, over the program’s entire span, one-third of all individuals brought into immigration custody had no criminal record and 56 percent had no criminal record or had been charged or convicted of a minor offense such as driving without a license. (It's worth noting that in 48 states, undocumented immigrants are not permitted to obtain driver’s licenses.) These are hardly the hardened criminals that the Obama administration claims it targets with Secure Communities. Even those who the administration targets for reentering the United States following a deportation order are often mothers and fathers who had been torn from U.S. citizen children and spouses.

The current Secure Communities debate is not about whether to enforce our immigration laws, but rather how to enforce them. As with any regulatory program, President Obama has broad discretion regarding how to enforce immigration law. His administration so far has thrown its support behind the fundamentally flawed Secure Communities program, which interferes with community policing, is a strain on local resources, tears families apart, and does not make the community any safer. Those are the facts.

Documenting the facts:

1. Compare DHS Immigration Enforcement Actions fact sheet from 2008 with 2009 and 2010.

2. These changes were noted in the September 29, 2010, DHS Privacy Impact Assessment, “Alien Criminal Response Information Management System (ACRIMe) & Enforcement Integrated Database (EID).” See pages 2-3.

3. Compare ICE's reports on "Secure Communities Nationwide Interoperability Statistics” for FY 2010 (prepared in November 2010) and FY 2011 (through June 2011). The June report shows 17,787 additional Level 1 immigrants brought into ICE custody in FY2010 than the November 2010 report did.