Judiciary Committee Hearing- Secure Communities

By: Abbie Kretz, Heartland Workers Center Organizer On December 5, the Judiciary committee held a special hearing regarding the Secure Communities (S-Comm) program in Nebraska.  The hearing was part of study conducted this year by the Judiciary Committee on immigration in Nebraska.  The Judiciary Committee is one of 14 legislative committees and is made up of eight committee members, including Senators Brad Ashford, Brenda Council, Burke Harr, and Steve Lathrop.

The federal program leading the discussion, S-Comm, requires that anyone who is arrested have their fingerprints run through the systems of both the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  This program is in line with Obama’s August 18 announcement, which stated that the 300,000 cases currently in deportation proceedings would be halted in order to re-examine if they are really “high-priority” cases.  In Nebraska, 13 counties are actively participating in this program.

The purpose of this hearing was to get feedback from law enforcement officers regarding S-Comm.  Agencies from the state who were present included the Nebraska State Patrol and Omaha, Lincoln, and Schuyler Police Departments.  Along with the Heartland Workers Center, other pro-immigrant groups were present, including the Latino Center of the Midlands, ACLU, Nebraska Appleseed, and OTOC.

The first to testify was a Colonel with the Nebraska State Patrol, who presented the committee with    statistics regarding S-Comm in Nebraska.  He stated that of the 28,500 arrests made in these 13 counties, only 196 people were deported.

Following the testimony of the Colonel, three representatives from local law enforcement agencies (Omaha, Lincoln, and Schuyler) also testified regarding the program.  Each representative said his department does not actively participate in the program.

However, there are two important questions we can raise from these testimonies:

1.  Why were these 196 people arrested in the first place? Were they “high-priority” cases, like the Obama administration said, or are people being arrested for broken taillights or for driving without a license?  Do these people have families in the United States?

2. When local police officers make arrests, the arrestee is then taken to another jail, because the local departments no longer have their own jails.  And, these jails just so happen to participate in S-Comm.  Yes, the local police departments are not directly participating in S-Comm; however, since they are contracting services from other departments, they should hold them accountable or ensure that their goals and missions align together.  Otherwise, their word does not hold true.

As we enter into the new year, we must continue to investigate S-Comm.  It is a program that sounds great on paper, but in reality, it doesn’t work.  When people are arrested for minor infractions or as passengers in cars, there is something wrong with this program.  When family men and women are forced into detention centers to wait months or years for a court case, there is something wrong with this program.  We can no longer sit back and watch this occur.  We, as Nebraska, must begin to look for positive alternatives to participating in S-Comm.  Otherwise, our motto can longer be “The Good Life,” as that is not true for all.

To learn more about S-Comm. and the Nebraska Legislature, including the new bills in the upcoming legislative session, JOIN US on Saturday, January 7 from 10AM-12PM at the HWC office for a meeting of Allied Latino Organization (OLA for its name in Spanish).