By Jonathan Fried

Teresa Garcia [not her real name] was stopped in September 2009 by a Miami-Dade County police officer while on her way home after dropping off her children at school. When she could not produce a driver's license, he arrested her for driving without a license, and she was booked into the Miami-Dade jail system. Although she had no criminal record, ICE placed a detainer on her and took her into custody. After spending several weeks in ICE detention, she was deported to her native country, leaving her two young U.S.-citizen children behind with a relative.

Garcia's story is illustrative of thousands of others resulting from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement "Secure Communities" program. Marketed by ICE under the guise of making our streets safer, that program has become a nightmare for countless immigrants, while adding to the uncertainty of us all.

This past Monday, four days after we learned that Arizona was poised to become an apartheid state for immigrants, ICE announced that it intends to make Florida a little Arizona. Apparently eight more counties joined ICE's "Secure Communities" program. In light of the recent bad press coming out of Arizona, ICE is marketing the Secure Communities program heavily, touting it as a program that will rid the streets of "dangerous criminal aliens."

Keeping our streets safe would be wonderful, if it were but true. "Secure Communities," in a nutshell, is a fingerprinting system that ICE sets up in county jails across the country. The program basically flags any immigrant arrested and booked in jail to be turned over to ICE for deportation, whether or not they are eventually convicted of a crime. There is nothing that stops an abusive husband from falsely accusing his wife of a crime. Nothing stops an unscrupulous employer from falsely accusing a worker he doesn't want to pay of a crime. Even if innocent, being an immigrant will get them flagged for deportation the second they are booked.

ICE's own statistics show that almost 90 percent of immigrants deported through Secure Communities, almost 15,000 people last year, were not charged for serious or dangerous crimes. ICE refuses to say how many of those 15,000 immigrants were never convicted of any crime.

What we can be sure of is that programs like Secure Communities are making our communities insecure. Last summer, more than half of the immigrants we surveyed said they are afraid to call 911 for help. When asked why, one-third cited collaboration with ICE as the main reason – and this is in immigrant-friendly Miami. Imagine what the numbers would look like in the rest of Florida.

For us to be truly secure, ICE has to stop touting a program it claims makes us secure, when it doesn't. ICE's own numbers tell the truth, even when ICE doesn't.

It’s time to put ICE’s “Secure Communities” on Ice.
Fried is the Executive Director of WeCount! based in Homestead.
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