Washington – Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano defended the budgetary request to complete the enlargement of the controversial Secure Communities program as part of "smart and effective enforcement of U.S. immigration laws."
She outlined Department of Homeland Security priorities for the 2013 fiscal year during an appearance before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.
Napolitano said DHS' 2013 budget "includes funding to complete nationwide deployment" of the Secure Communities program in fiscal 2013, which ends Sept. 30, 2013.
The S-COMM initiative is aimed at identifying and removing deportable undocumented immigrants who land in state prisons and local jails.
"Nationwide implementation of Secure Communities and other enforcement initiatives, coupled with continued collaboration with DOJ (Department of Justice) ... is expected to continue to increase the number of criminal aliens and other priority individuals who are identified and removed," the secretary told lawmakers.
To criticisms from pro-immigrant groups, DHS insists that 94 percent of those deported through S-COMM are foreigners already convicted of crime, fugitives, repeat criminal offenders, and people detained crossing the border illegally.
The S-COMM program, which requires state and local law enforcement to share all detainees' fingerprints with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has driven deportations of undocumented immigrants to record levels.
Presente.org, an advocacy group, cites ICE statistics showing that a mere 22 percent of the nearly 400,000 people deported in the 2011 fiscal year had convictions for serious offenses.
It is only by redefining "criminal removal" to include people who committed minor infractions that authorities can claim criminals account for half of deportees, according to Presente.org.
Widespread opposition has led numerous municipalities and several states to attempt to opt out of S-COMM, though DHS says the program is obligatory.
A committee assembled to the program issued a report last September urging a series of reforms to increase transparency and focus the effort on deporting dangerous criminals.
"ICE should clarify that civil immigration law violators and individuals who are convicted of or charged with misdemeanors or other minor offenses are not top enforcement priorities" in the absence of other indicators that they pose a serious risk, the Task Force on Secure Communities said in its 33-page report.
Specifically, the panel said that the taking of fingerprints under S-COMM should not result in the deportation of an undocumented immigrant detained for a minor traffic infraction.