Governor David A. Paterson today announced that he has negotiated an agreement with the Federal government to ensure that those aliens who pose the greatest threat to public safety – convicted criminals, not individuals who are merely in the country illegally – are a priority for the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
"While I am very concerned with protecting the civil rights of immigrants, I am equally cognizant of the fact that this State is a prime target for terrorism," Governor Paterson said. "This new agreement balances the homeland security and civil liberties issues that have surrounded the Secure Communities initiative. I continue to believe it is appropriate and important for New York State to share information with the Federal government that could protect us from terrorist attacks. However, advocates have raised valid concerns, which is why I instructed my staff to renegotiate the agreement with the Federal government."
Under the Federal government's Secure Communities initiative, states are asked to share information with ICE on individuals who are arrested. The cornerstone of Secure Communities is the activation of new information-sharing capabilities to automatically alert local law enforcement and ICE when potentially deportable criminal aliens come into local custody. Advocates for the immigrant community expressed concern that under the original agreement aliens charged with minor offenses could face deportation. They also expressed concern that such a sweeping initiative would discourage aliens from cooperating with police, ultimately hindering law enforcement and undermining public safety.
Under the new agreement, signed December 28, it is clear that convicted felons, and not individuals whose only offense is remaining in the country illegally, are the target of Secure Communities. The agreement also makes clear that aliens with misdemeanor convictions and pose no discrete threat to national security are not the focus of Secure Communities; rather, their purpose is to "identify, detain and remove from the United States aliens who... have been previously deported and who illegally [re-]entered the country, or who are subject to removal because they pose a homeland security concern or threat to the public safety."
Governor Paterson noted that only communities that specifically agree to share information with the Federal government will be enrolled in the Secure Communities initiative. Law enforcement agencies across the State have already expressed intent to join Secure Communities and more than 200 of these agencies are ready for activation. Under the Secure Communities plan, when a local law enforcement agency makes an arrest and submits fingerprints to the State Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) to conduct a State criminal history check and to the FBI for a nationwide check, an expanded integrated records check is conducted at the Federal level that includes both criminal history and immigration status of the arrested individual.