On June 17, 2011, in response to growing criticism and confusion over his agency’s Secure Communities program, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton announced a number of changes to the program. Generally, the changes allowed for greater prosecutorial discretion, broadening the factors to be considered when officers make decisions about whom to detain or remove, and thereby raising the bar for deportation. Other changes included a strengthened complaint system, expanded training programs for local law enforcement, and tools for better oversight – for example, the establishment of an advisory committee, composed of law enforcement officials and immigrant advocates, and a compilation of more specific statistics on who is being held under ICE detainers, and why.
One of the most significant announced changes was Morton’s pledge that crime victims and witnesses would, in the future, not be detained for status checks. “It is agency policy,” Morton said, “Not to put these people into immigration proceedings.”
Predictably, advocates for stricter immigration control were displeased by at least some of Morton’s new guidelines. “I think it’s reasonable for ICE to be careful with [domestic violence] cases,” Vaughan said, “and that change I don’t have a problem with. But I am troubled by some of the other changes they are making, such as the prosecutorial discretion memo, where the agency has pretty much indicated that it only wants to remove convicted criminals and a few other narrow categories. I think that is overly restrictive.”
Immigrant advocates weighed in with a variety of responses – some saying the only way to fix the program was to shut it down, and others expressing cautious optimism. Many pointed out, however, that the issue of whether the program is mandatory has not yet been resolved, or even recently addressed, by the government.
For Lena Graber, it’s too early to know what to think of ICE’s changes. “They don’t have the statistics yet,” she said. “The advisory committee is just getting stood up. So it’s definitely an acknowledgement that the program has not been operating the way that it was supposed to. But what happens next is an open question.”