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Second governor moves to withdraw his state from ICE's Secure Communities

NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Citing concerns about the impact of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) shared biometric identification program on immigrant communities, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told federal authorities he was withdrawing his state from the program.

In a June 1 letter Cuomo’s counsel, Mylan Denerstein, told John Sandweg, the DHS general counsel’s chief of staff, that ICE's Secure Communities program was compromising public safety in New York. The program, which targets criminal illegal aliens by sharing electronic fingerprint information taken by local law enforcement with federal databases, was deterring witnesses from reporting crimes and from working with law enforcement.

Law enforcement in a growing number of local jurisdictions have questioned whether the program actually deters crime reporting from witnesses in immigrant communities who fear deportation, instead of identifying criminal illegal aliens. Questions have also been raised about how states and local jurisdictions can participate. DHS has given mixed messages about whether the program is voluntary or mandatory for those jurisdictions.

"There are concerns about the implementation of the program as well as its impact on families, immigrant communities and law enforcement in New York," said the letter.

Cuomo’s withdrawal marks the second time a governor has said their state would no longer participate in the program. On May 4, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn’s office sent a similar letter to ICE saying that his state was moving to end its participation in the shared biometric identification information program after questioning its effectiveness and impact on local immigrant communities. The Illinois State Police had stopped sending fingerprint information through the program in November, pending a review of the State’s Secure Communities Memorandum of Understanding with ICE.

The DHS Inspector General has undertaken a review of the program, under pressure from Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). Lofgren asked DHS Acting Inspector General Charles Edwards in a May 17 letter to look into allegations that ICE deliberately mislead local authorities about their mandatory participation “as soon as possible.”

Denerstein said “until the numerous questions and controversies regarding the program can be resolved, we have determined that New York is best served by relying on existing tools to ensure the safety of its residents, especially given the overriding concern that the current mechanism is undermining law enforcement.”

“Governor Cuomo has made the right decision to take New York State out of the controversial Secure Communities program,” said John Poklemba, Counsel to the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police, in a statement. “This program unfortunately has had a negative impact on our crime-fighting efforts. Law enforcement must have tools and resources that are both effective and fair.”

“New York joins a growing chorus of state opposition to an ill-conceived, dangerous, and dishonestly-executed program, said Pablo Alvarado,  Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON). “The more local law enforcement and elected officials learn about SCOMM, the more they have opposed it.” 


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