Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) filed a federal lawsuit today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia demanding that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) release data and documents about the use of racial profiling in the controversial immigration enforcement program known as the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), formerly Secure Communities.
“Under PEP, as was the case with Secure Communities, any arrest becomes an investigation for immigration enforcement,” said NIJC National Litigation Coordinator Mark Fleming. “The government’s lack of transparency has only increased concerns that these programs encourage racial profiling. In immigrant communities and communities of color, there is fear that any encounter with police can lead to deportation proceedings or at a minimum a pre-textual arrest to assess immigration status.”
The government has refused to release the Secure Communities Statistical Monitoring reports and other documents that ICE and DHS’s Office of Civil Right and Civil Liberties (CRCL) created as part of its efforts to monitor for potential racial profiling within the enforcement program. DHS rebranded the enforcement program as PEP in November 2014, but the racial profiling monitoring requirements remained the same. NIJC requested the records through a Freedom of Information Act request in March 2014.
Under the Secure Communities/PEP program, when state and local law enforcement officers arrest and book an individual into custody, they fingerprint him or her and send the fingerprints to the FBI. The FBI automatically runs the fingerprints (including those of U.S. citizens) against a DHS immigration database, which alerts ICE agents to immediately investigate the individual in custody. Based on the database alert, DHS may issue a detainer, requesting that local law enforcement hold the individual for up to 48 hours until ICE can assume custody.
The reporting requirements were imposed as part of an independent government task force’s recommendations to hold DHS accountable for preventing civil rights and civil liberties violations within the enforcement program. In response, ICE and CRCL hired a criminologist to conduct quarterly analyses of racial profiling data from law enforcement agencies nationwide. Neither ICE nor CRCL has released the reports to the public, or taken remedial measures to address identified incidences of racial profiling within the Secure Communities/PEP enforcement program.