Homeland Security contemplating reduction in deportations

Changes may be coming to the "Secure Communities" immigration enforcement program, which treats repeat violators of U.S. immigration law similarly to violent criminals when it comes to deportation.

The proposed change, according to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, would decrease deportation for non-violent offenders.

An overhaul of immigration law is currently stalled in the House, and some members of Congress have opposed any change in enforcement tactics for federal authorities.

Currently, the Federal Bureau of Investigation collects fingerprints of anyone arrested by local and state police to see if that person has a criminal record or is wanted by another jurisdiction. Under the Secure Communities program, Customs Enforcement can check these fingerprints to see if the person arrested is deportable because of an arrest or is in the country illegally. The law allows local law enforcement the ability to detain immigrants for up to 48 hours to allow for federal officials to determine if the arrestee is deportable.

Over 280,000 people have been deported under the program through 2014, according to federal data.

Program overhaul

More than 3,000 communities currently participate in the Secure Communities program. However, some police chiefs have argued against the Secure Communities program, claiming that it prevents undocumented immigrants from reporting crime committed against them or others. California recently passed a law limiting the amount of cooperation that can occur between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. Dozens of communities across the U.S. have refused to participate in the program.

The change suggested by Jeh Johnson would shift focus from all undocumented immigrants to only those who are arrested for violent crimes. However, the program is as yet unchanged, and there is no set timetable for an immediate reduction of deportations.

The potential change, or even elimination, of the Secure Communities program comes as the Obama administration is reviewing its deportation policies. In 2012 President Obama stopped the deportation of several hundreds of thousands of younger undocumented people in the U.S. who were brought into the country as children. President Obama's goal is to make U.S. immigration policy more "humane" - and he reiterated his intention of lowering deportation for non-violent undocumented immigrants in March.

An immigration attorney can help

Whether in the country with proper legal documentation or not, immigrants who have been arrested face the potential for deportation or removal. Immigrants concerned with their status should speak to an experienced immigration law attorney to discuss their legal options and next steps.