AMARILLO, TX -- Right now, local law enforcement agencies are preparing for federal policy shift that changes what happens when non-citizens are arrested all over the country.
This change comes as part of Obama's Executive Action to shield millions from deportation. In some cases, this move will limit the amount of time that a criminal alien can be held by law enforcement.
According to a memo distributed to all local law enforcement by Homeland Security, the Secure Communities program is coming to end. That program helped identify criminal aliens for deportation through information sharing between government agencies. According Homeland Security, the now discontinued Secure Communities program was misunderstood, and its very name had become a symbol of general hostility toward the enforcement of our immigration laws.
The Secure Communities program was a Bush-era American deportation program that helped law enforcement coordinate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to keep criminal aliens in custody. Zelda Howell, an immigration lawyer, said that people would get picked up for minor offenses and be held for lengthy periods, something that many saw as unconstitutional.
"The Secure Communities program was very expensive," said Zelda Howell of the Whittenburg & Strange Law Firm. "People got held for days after they were supposed to be released for the offense that they committed. I think one of the reason for the change is to direct the federal dollars elsewhere, so that they can prioritize and really go after the people that are priorities for enforcement."
Factors such as cost, lawsuits, non-compliance by departments all over the country, and distrust among immigrant communities led the Obama administration to discontinue the program on Nov. 20. Senator John Cornyn told us that he believes that discontinuing this program is a mistake because Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, won't be able to track down dangerous criminals.
"It's a mistake to eliminate the Secure Communities program because these are people who have been arrested for crimes, and if they're released, then ICE will basically not have the resources or the ability to go locate them," said Texas Senator Cornyn, (R).
Others are happy to see that a program that many hold as unconstitutional and unevenly enforced is going away.
"Anytime government has less of role, I think it's good," said local lawyer Ryan Brown. "FBI and ICE are being really forced to back down because there were a lot of communities around the country that wouldn't follow it saying 'I'm not going to do it.'"
Now, the new program being implemented by the federal government only targets certain convicted aliens for deportation when they're in custody.
"The new memorandum means that local law enforcement will no longer have to detain people longer than their scheduled criminal release date if they're not priority for deportation or removal," said Howell.
Senator Cornyn hopes to see the change in policy reverse in congress next year, especially with Republicans controlling both the House and the Senate in Washington.
"This is something that in the new congress I hope we can reverse and we can have a more responsible policy in place, and certainty one that everyone understands, which we don't now," said Senator Cornyn.
There is little doubt that the discontinuation of the Secure Communities program was politically motivated.
"The democrats haven't done as fantastically well with Latino voters as they would like, and so this is because they're trying to pick up more Latino voters," said Dr. Brian Farmer, a professor of Social Sciences.
Homeland Security will now focus on deporting aliens who are threats to national security or who have convicted several offenses and non-citizens who have been issued a final order of removal. The Randall County Sheriff’s Office says that this move probably won’t save them money, since Immigration and Customs Enforcement has always reimbursed them for holding criminal aliens, but that other communities in our area could potentially save money. This new protocol for local law enforcement goes into effect Jan. 5th.