May 17, 2011
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca supports the Secure Communities program, as he explained a few days ago on the radio program "Which Way LA?" Ironically, the reasons he gave for his support are precisely the problems of a program that has been misused and is prone to being abused.
Secure Communities was intended as a public safety program to arrest and deport undocumented dangerous criminals. However, its implementation has strayed far beyond that goal, and people without criminal records have been arrested and deported. For example, it is estimated that 3,000 individuals, almost one-fourth of those deported from Los Angeles since August 2009 under this program, did not meet the definition of "dangerous criminal."
This is not a problem for Baca. According to his explanation, when an undocumented immigrant is arrested by a sheriff’s deputy, it is equivalent to being guilty of a crime since the undocumented do not have civil rights like everyone else. In practice, under the Immigration and Customs Enforcement program, being a suspect is the same as being found guilty of a crime.
This is the essential problem with this program. When suspects are taken to county jail by a police officer or sheriff’s deputy, they are within the reach of immigration authorities. Baca seems to think every arrest made by the police or sheriff’s deputies is justifiable beyond a shadow of a doubt. But it is common knowledge that this perfection does not exist and that —as with everything else— some officers abuse their authority, have bad intentions or just make mistakes during arrests.
When someone reports a crime and the officer in charge sees, perceives or thinks that there is an irregularity regarding the victim or the person reporting it, the situation can take a 180-degree turn and end in the complainant being deported. This can happen, and is a fear many undocumented immigrants have. Because of this, the enforcement of Secure Communities undermines the trust that exists between law enforcement and immigrant communities.
The Latino community does not support the Secure Communities program, as the sheriff believes. Everyone wants dangerous criminals to be taken off the streets, but not at the cost of deporting the innocent. Nor is there complete faith in the infallibility of an arrest such that it should be used to determine that a crime was committed and who committed it.
We have been worried about Sheriff Baca’s enthusiasm for the Secure Communities program. We are much more concerned now after hearing his position, and the arguments to end this program are even stronger.