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Deportations of immigrants arrested for traffic offenses to fall

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Two months ago we noted the expansion of the Secure Communities program into Maryland. The government hopes to implement the program, which was started in 2008, throughout the country by next year. But Washington performed a notable about-face last week regarding one aspect of the program.

The Department of Homeland Security has announced that it will reduce deportations of illegal immigrants who are arrested for minor traffic offenses. This change was motivated by a task force report that decried deportation for traffic violations alone. The new policy now aligns more closely with the government's continuing efforts to focus resources on deporting immigrants with criminal records or who are believed to be a threat to national security.

But Homeland Security's new policy contains an exception--one that does not sit well with some task force members. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has the authority, though not the obligation, to place a hold on an illegal immigrant without a criminal record after that person has been convicted of a traffic offense. Although it appears that many immigrants would not likely be affected by the hold exception in practice, one task force member expressed his disapproval. He said that the task force had proposed that ICE completely avoid placing holds on immigrants who committed traffic violations.

Secure Communities is an information-sharing program involving various law enforcement agencies. It requires local police to take fingerprints of arrested suspects, which are sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security. The latter then checks the immigration status of the fingerprinted suspects.

While the new policy may help some avoid deportation, immigration law remains complex. Other crimes can still trigger deportation proceedings, and immigrants seeking to remain in the United States should know what rights they have to fight deportation.

Source: The New York Times, "Fewer Illegal Immigrants Stopped for Traffic Violations Will Face Deportation," Julia Preston, April 27, 2012.

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