Sunday, March 18, 2012

Secure Communities boosts otherwise declining jail populations

The Austin Statesman's Dave Harmon has one of the better articles I've seen ("Undocumented immigrants in jail: Who gets deported?," March 18) detailing how the federal "Secure Communities" program - which IDs undocumented immigrants in jail for deportation - actually operates on the ground in Travis County. Harmon found that about 10% of Travis County inmates who've received ICE detainers were jailed for Class C misdemeanors, though that practice is receding, and that most of those deported were arrested for misdemeanors. Among the story's highlights:
The newspaper analyzed ICE's data, then obtained three years' worth of records from the jail — totaling more than 250,000 bookings between 2009 and 2011 — and found that:

■ For every undocumented immigrant deported from Travis County after being arrested for a serious felony, two people were deported after being arrested for some type of misdemeanor, from traffic violations to more serious offenses, such as assault or drunk driving.
■ The more than 10,000 people who received ICE detainers — the first step toward possible deportation — over the three-year period included 1,054 people charged only with Class C misdemeanors, which are punishable by fines only.
■ Nearly 90 percent of those Class C charges were for public intoxication and traffic violations. It's not clear how many of those people were ultimately deported.
■ The number of detainers filed on people charged with Class C misdemeanors has been dropping over the past two years, from an average of 46 a month in the first half of 2010 to an average of 23 a month in the last half of 2011. Since ICE Director John Morton's memo last June instructing employees to use greater discretion, ICE agents have filed about 150 detainers on Class C offenders.
There are lots of case studies and other detail from the institutional players in the lengthy story, which will interest anyone interested in the day to day functioning of county jails. This is a great example why immigration enforcement is one of the last remaining hopes of private-prison interests that incarceration rates might continue to increase. Secure Communities is one of the few recent drivers of increased incarceration in an era when Texas county jails have otherwise experienced population declines, just as immigration detainees are the largest growth sector among federal prisoners. Thus, as is so often the case (see: mental health issues for another example), the program amounts to the state using the criminal justice system as a substitute for rationalizing policies overall - in this case, once and for all implementing immigration reform. Who gets a traffic ticket is a stupid way to choose who may get deported. The process should be a bit more thoughtful and less random than that.

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