The Secure Communities Program and 287(g) immigration programs "were programs that worked" but were "recklessly gutted" by the Obama administration.

Donald Trump on Wednesday, August 31st, 2016 in a speech in Arizona

Trump says Secure Communities, 287(g) immigration programs worked

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during an Aug. 31, 2016, campaign rally at the Phoenix Convention Center in Arizona.

One facet of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s new immigration plan would increase cooperation between federal and local law enforcement agencies to deport criminals living in the country illegally.

"We will restore the highly successful Secure Communities Program. Good program," Trump said in Phoenix on Aug. 31. "We will expand and revitalize the popular 287(g) partnerships, which will help to identify hundreds of thousands of deportable aliens in local jails that we don't even know about. Both of these programs have been recklessly gutted by this administration. And those were programs that worked."

The programs Trump mentioned led to the removal of undocumented criminal immigrants. But they have also been criticized as tools for racial profiling, diminishing trust between communities and police, and for deporting large numbers of immigrants with no criminal record.

We wanted to take a closer look at the programs, whether Obama "gutted them," and why there is disagreement on whether they worked.

Trump’s campaign did not return our requests for more information.

Secure Communities

Implementation of Secure Communities began in 2008 under President George W. Bush.

The program ended in 2015 when Obama replaced it with a similar enforcement program. Secure Communities resulted in deportations but also stirred up controversy with law enforcement and advocates for holding immigrants without probable cause.

Secure Communities was designed to "improve and modernize efforts to identify aliens convicted of a crime, sentenced to imprisonment, and who may be deportable, and remove them from the United States once they are judged deportable," according to ICE.

Here’s how it worked: when someone was booked into a police station or jail, that person’s fingerprints and booking information was sent to the FBI, which in turn shared it with the Homeland Security Department. DHS then ran the information through its databases and if there was a "hit," meaning if that person had an immigration record, then Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the local law enforcement agency were notified.

ICE then determined that person’s immigration status and whether or not to deport the person based on the agency’s priorities. ICE could then request a detainer, asking the local agency to hold the individual beyond the point he or she would be released, so ICE could have a chance to transfer the person to federal custody.

During the course of this program, ICE’s priority was immigrants in the country illegally who had also broken criminal laws. A 2010 ICE memo outlined removal priorities, with the highest priority including violent criminals.

From October 2008 to February 2015, ICE removed 406,441 people from the country, the agency reported. That included 135,726 criminal aliens convicted of Level 1 offenses, such as murder, rape and sexual abuse of a minor.

Secure Communities was responsible for 60 percent of all interior deportations in fiscal year 2013 and 73 percent in fiscal year 2014, a Migration Policy Institute analyst testified in December 2015 before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. (Interior deportations do not account for border removals.)

"Nonetheless, Secure Communities also proved to be highly controversial, because it resulted in a large number of low-priority removals and was seen by many (law enforcement agencies) as damaging to public safety," said Marc R. Rosenblum, who left the institute to work for the Homeland Security Department in January 2016.

In 2014, a federal judge ruled that an Oregon county had violated a woman’s Fourth Amendment right by detaining her for immigration authorities without probable cause, The Oregonian reported.

"It’s hard to call (Secure Communities) a success by any measure except to the extent that you support the violation of our Constitution in order to deport more people," said Lena Graber, a special projects attorney for Immigrant Legal Resource Center, an immigrant advocacy group, via email.

In November 2014, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said Secure Communities would be "as we know it, discontinued."

By that point, Secure Communities had attracted "a great deal of criticism," was "widely misunderstood," and "embroiled in litigation," Johnson said.

"Governors, mayors, and state and local law enforcement officials around the country have increasingly refused to cooperate with the program, and many have issued executive orders or signed laws prohibiting such cooperation," Johnson wrote.

In his memo, Johnson also announced the creation of the Priority Enforcement Program.

That program continues to use fingerprint data, but, as its name suggests, emphasized top priority offenders, such as those who pose a threat to national security.

The Priority Enforcement Program also stipulates that ICE cannot ask local law enforcement agencies to detain individuals beyond their release date (detainers can be used in limited circumstances). ICE, instead, can ask to be notified of the release date.

One of the issues with Secure Communities was that while it was mandatory nationwide, more than 300 jurisdictions were not cooperating, said Randy Capps, director of research of U.S. programs at Migration Policy Institute. Many refused to comply with the detainers requested by ICE, he said.

More than half of the undocumented population lives in places that were not cooperating with ICE as part of Secure Communities, Capps said, which poses a problem for Trump if he is elected president and wants to revert back to the Secure Communities program.

"That was one of the main reasons why the Obama administration went to PEP," Capps said, "to try to get some of these local and state police departments back on board."

Capps views Obama’s Priority Enforcement Program as a revision, and not a gutting, of Secure Communities. ICE still does fingerprints and issues notices, he said, even if it does not also ask local law enforcement for detainers.

Jessica M. Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, said Secure Communities was effective because it was able to link DHS and FBI databases so that ICE and local law enforcement agencies could be notified when noncitizens were arrested.

"The result was that ICE was able to identify and remove more criminal aliens than ever before," Vaughan said. "Local law enforcement agencies no longer had to make a judgment call on whether to seek information on an inmate’s immigration status, it was done automatically (which thwarts racial profiling), and they no longer had to make manual queries of ICE, which saves time and resources."


The other program Trump wants to expand, "287(g)," stems from the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. The act added section 287(g) allowing ICE to enter into agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies and train officers to carry out immigration law enforcement functions.

ICE has these agreements with 32 law enforcement agencies in 16 states, including Florida, Texas and Arizona. ICE credits the program for identifying more than 402,000 "potentially removable aliens" from January 2006 through Sept. 30, 2015.

The program has had two enforcement models: a task force, where officers patrolling the streets could approach and process "removable aliens," and a jail model, allowing officers in state and local detention facilities to process removable aliens charged with or convicted of an offense.

Capps, from Migration Policy Institute, says 287(g) has a mixed track record.

There were allegations of racial profiling early on, particularly in the small number of jurisdictions using the task force model, when officers could ask someone about their immigration status on the street, Capps said. In 2009, DHS decided not to renew the task force model agreement with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for his hard-line immigration stance.

The Obama administration decided in 2012 to end the task force model. As a result, trained local police can only question people about their immigration status after they are booked into jail, Capps said.

In December 2011, DHS said the Justice Department found "discriminatory policing practices" within the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and terminated the county’s jail mode agreement.

Vaughan says local agencies have wanted 287(g) because "they had so many criminal aliens that ICE couldn’t handle the workload by itself," and because they were too far from ICE offices to be able to arrange regular pickup of criminal immigrants.

"I believe that the Obama administration’s suppression of this program has contributed to the steep drop in interior enforcement," Vaughan said.

Interior removals went down about 71 percent from 237,941 in fiscal 2009 (the first year Obama entered office), to 69,478 in fiscal 2015, according to ICE data.

Interior deportations have decreased under Obama due to the administration’s focus on border apprehensions and removal of undocumented immigrants threatening public safety, analysts have told us.

Our ruling

Trump said Secure Communities and 287(g) immigration programs "were programs that worked" but were "recklessly gutted" by the Obama administration.

The programs have led to the removal of criminal immigrants living illegally in the United States, and the Obama administration did scale down their scope. Yet the programs have been criticized for allowing officers to racially profile minorities, a federal judge found Fourth Amendment violations in one of them, and federal reviews have found discriminatory practices in the other.

While the programs have removed criminals from streets, they’ve also involved unlawful practices. Given the ambiguity of their outcomes, we rate Trump’s statement Half True.