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In the Land of Freedom

Since the arrival of the first European immigrants to North American the country known today as: The United States of America started to be built on immigrant blood. From mass immigration though Ellis Island, New York, in the early 1900’s to crossing the border walking the deserts of Texas or Arizona today, the idea of America as the land of freedom, where the sky is the limit, has attracted and continues attracting immigrants around the globe. For many years, in order to control the unstoppable immigration; which has apparently transformed into a problem, thought the years different immigration polices and strategies has been used being Secure Communities being one of the most recent. Although Secure Communities has effectively deported dangerous criminals, the program should not be enforced nationwide as a federal law because it breaks apart American families while reducing the cooperation between illegal immigrant communities and local police.

After the attacks on September 11th the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) took over Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), which is divided into two new agencies: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS). Secure Communities is one of the programs created by ICE, which works to recognize, detain and deport all illegal immigrants and suspected terrorists currently living in the United States. The program is focused, in theory, on criminal aliens, who have previous convictions and are dangerous for the public, but has transformed to targeting all undocumented aliens with or without previous felonies (Kearney and Friedland). How does Secure Communities work and give local police and sheriffs the power to act as immigration agents? Through the program, the information between police departments and immigration is shared. When the police detain a person, his/her fingerprints are collected and compared with the database of FBI, jails and ICE. As a result, and before the offender is convicted for the felony for which he was detained, ICE is notified and the undocumented person is taken to custody waiting to be deported. Since President Obama took office in 2008, more than 1 million undocumented immigrants have been deported. The goal for 2012 are to detain and deport around 400,000 undocumented aliens, while finalizing all the necessary details for implementing the Secure Communities program nationwide by 2013 (Lost in detention).

Although Secure Communities targets the worst of the worst among undocumented criminals, in reality it’s promoting a culture of fear in the undocumented communities in two evident ways. ICE statistics show that less than 20 percent of deportees are criminals or have even committed a crime beyond traffic infractions (Hinojosa). As a result, the fear generated by this massive and growing number of deportations is reducing the cooperation between local police and immigrant communities, which most likely will keep silence on cases that may or may not be related with their community. In this atmosphere of fear many undocumented immigrants are more vulnerable on cases of domestic violence, rape, or when witnesses to crimes will prefer to keep silence than contact the police (Hinojosa). The second evident way is when immigrants groups are afraid of working together as an entity. According to a census in 2007, 78 percent of undocumented immigrants are Latinos, 13 percent Asian, 6 percent European or Canadian, and 3 percent are African and other regions (Gonzales). Secure Communities affects and targets each immigrant group in different ways, the Latino community being the majority and, therefore, the most affected. Today, the gap between immigrant communities goes beyond the language they speak and thanks to the fear, it’s a barrier for working together for laws which could be beneficial for all undocumented immigrants. In other words, thanks to Secure Communities the proverb “Divide and Rules” is active among the undocumented immigrant community.

For some defenders of Secure Communities, there is no such thing as non-criminal undocumented immigrants and any one who crosses the border illegally or over stays his visa should be punished; therefore, Secure Communities program is seen in many ways as positive. But, what about undocumented immigrants who where brought by their parents when they were children? Many immigrants now facing deportation were raised in the USA and didn’t consciously decide to overstay their visas or cross the border. The 1.5 generation, as is presented by Roberto Gonzales on the documentary “Wasted Talent and Broken Dreams: The lost Potential of Undocumented Students”, can be called innocent undocumented immigrants. In fact “…. Many of them have been in this country almost their entire lives and attended most of their K-12 education here… They cannot legally drive, vote, or work. Moreover, at any time, these young men and women can be, and sometimes are, deported to countries they barely know.” In June 22 of 2011 undocumented journalist Jose Antonio Vargas wrote in the New York Times about his experience as one of the 1.5 generation. Vargas wrote openly about how living in fear is part of his everyday life, and the struggles of feeling that even though America is for him his country, the country thinks he is not one of its own.

According to the process of Secure Communities each detainee case is analyzed individually and the process of deportation depends on family ties and medical conditions, among others things. But, around more than 4,5 million American children live in families in which one or both of their parents are undocumented immigrants. The implementation of Secure Communities has disintegrated many of these families, leaving dozens of kids in the hands of the system and in foster houses (Lost in detention). While allies of the program perceive this as collateral damage, entire communities and families see calamity. Separating parents from their children as a consequence of a traffic infraction is in many ways outrageous, but according to the program, necessary. The “anchor babies”, who are American citizens by birth, cannot be deported together with their undocumented parents, but also can’t help their parent’s immigration status. As a result, this is one of the biggest negative impacts of SC on the foundations of family as an institution in the society.

Before finally implementing the program nationwide, the government and law enforcement agents should approve amnesty to currently undocumented immigrants. This amnesty, which can give legal residence to undocumented immigrants under special circumstances (clean criminal record, years of living in USA, tax figures, etc,), could reduce the negative impact of the policy. It is important for Americans and for the American government to remember that this country was based in immigrant blood, and therefore every one of its citizens was an illegal undocumented immigrant in the past, looking for a better future in the land of freedom.

Works Cited

- Keaney, Melissa and Joan Friedland. Overview of the Key ICE ACCESS Programs: 287(g), the Criminal Allien Program, and Secure Communities. Nov 2009. National Immigration Law Center. 15 Nov. 2011 http://www.nilc.org/immlawpolicy/locallaw/ice-access-2009-11-05.pdf

- United states. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Secure Communities. 9 Nov. 2011< http://www.ice.gov/secure_communities/

- Lost in Detention. Frontline. Public Broadcasting system. Boston. 18 Oct 2011.

- Vargas, Jose Antonio. “ My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant.” New York Times 22 Jun 2011. 2 Dec. 2011 http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/26/magazine/my-life-as-an-undocumented-immigrant.html?pagewanted=all

- Gonzales, Roberto. "Wasted Talent and Broken Dreams: The Lost Potential of Undocumented Students." Immigration Policy Center. 01 Oct. 2007. American Immigration Council. 01 Dec. 2011 http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/special -reports/wasted-talent-and-broken-dreams-lost-potential-undocumented-students

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