Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) and Secure Communities Program

What is the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP)?

The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) enables DHS to work with state and local law enforcement to take custody of individuals who pose a danger to public safety before those individuals are released into our communities. PEP was established at the direction of DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson in a November 20, 2014 memorandum, entitled Secure Communities, that discontinued the Secure Communities program. PEP focuses on convicted criminals and others who pose a danger to public safety.

Under PEP, ICE will seek the transfer of a removable individual when that individual has been convicted of an offense listed under the DHS civil immigration enforcement priorities, has intentionally participated in an organized criminal gang to further the illegal activity of the gang, or poses a danger to national security.

Here is a comparison of the Secure Communities and Priority Enforcement Programs.

What was the Secure Communities Program (SCP)?

The highly effective Secure Communities Program was discontinued under the Obama administration.

Secure Communities was a program administered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

It was degraded to only focus its limited resources on those who have been arrested for breaking criminal laws. Simply being unlawfully present in the United States would no longer gain the attention of ICE under the Secure Communities Program.1,4

Secure Communities is a way to carry out ICE's priorities. It uses an already-existing federal information-sharing partnership between ICE and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that helps to identify criminal aliens without imposing new or additional requirements on state and local law enforcement. For decades, local jurisdictions have shared the fingerprints of individuals who are arrested or booked into custody with the FBI to see if they have a criminal record.

Under Secure Communities, the FBI automatically sends the fingerprints to DHS to check against its immigration databases. If these checks reveal that an individual is unlawfully present in the United States or otherwise removable (can be deported) due to a criminal conviction, ICE takes enforcement action – prioritizing the removal (deporting) of individuals who present the most significant threats to public safety as determined by the severity of their crime, their criminal history, and other factors – as well as those who have repeatedly violated immigration laws.

Secure Communities imposes no new or additional requirements on state and local law enforcement. The federal government, not the state or local law enforcement agency, determines what immigration enforcement action, if any, is appropriate.

State and local jurisdictions cannot opt out of Secure Communities. A jurisdiction may choose not to receive the identifications that result from processing the fingerprints through DHS's biometric system that are provided to the local ICE field office. In the past, this option has been mischaracterized as a mechanism for a jurisdiction to opt out of the program. In fact, a jurisdiction's decision not to receive this information directly does not affect whether the local ICE field office in that jurisdiction will or will not take enforcement action based on those results.2

Only federal DHS officers make immigration enforcement decisions, and they do so only after an individual is arrested for a criminal violation of local, state, or federal law, separate and apart from any violations of immigration law.

Secure Communities Program limitations under the Obama administration

The highly effective Secure Communities Program was discontinued under the Obama administration.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) receives annual appropriations from Congress sufficient to remove a limited number of the more than 10 million [to 40 million] individuals estimated to be in the U.S. who lack lawful status or are removable because of a criminal conviction. Given this reality, ICE must set priorities.

Under the Obama administration, ICE has set clear priorities for immigration enforcement focused on identifying and removing those aliens with criminal convictions. In addition to criminal aliens, ICE focuses on recent illegal entrants, repeat violators who game the immigration system, those who fail to appear at immigration hearings, and fugitives who have already been ordered removed by an immigration judge.

Between fiscal years 2008 and 2011 the number of convicted criminals that ICE removed from the United States increased by 89 percent, while the number of non-criminals removed dropped by 29 percent - from 25 percent in 2008 to 4 percent in 2012. According to ICE, deportations of "other" (non-criminal) removable illegal aliens was only 14,674 in 2012, or 4 percent of all removals.3

Secure Communities Program deficiencies

The SCP is a purely an administrative creation and is not a program established by act of Congress. Therefore, it can be modified or discontinued by the President or Secretary of the Interior at any time. 

Enforcement of the Secure Communities Program is dependent on two factors:

  1. Crimes that partisan bureaucrats in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency consider worthy of detention and deportation.  As noted above, as of first quarter 2013, this only includes violent crimes, not serial DUIs or other misdemeanors.
  2. Actions, if any, that local sheriffs choose to take in response to the information provided by federal authorities.

An important point is that all such decisions are purely discretionary. A local sheriff can completely ignore the information ICE provides about his jail inmates who are illegal aliens - and yet that sheriff would still be in full compliance with SCP.

For example, if the Denver County Sheriff chooses to disregard a notification that one of his jail inmates is an illegal alien who has been twice deported and is wanted for felony reentry, and the sheriff then releases that illegal alien on bond, the sheriff is not in violation of federal law.

Secure Communities Program notes

1. Secure Communities, ICE, April 1, 2013.

2. Secure Communities: Get the Facts, ICE, April 1, 2013.

3. Secure Communities Program Removal Statistics, ICE, April 1, 2013.

4. Democrats plot to betray citizens on amnesty, Tom Tancredo, March 30, 2013.

5.  Map: Immigration Enforcement Activity Hubs - Secure Communities Removals by County, 2008-2015, Center for Immigration Studies, May 2015.

This map shows the total cumulative number of aliens who were removed by ICE in each county between October 2008, and February 2015, after identification through the Secure Communities program.
The total number of removals shown is 406,441, which is a subset of all ICE removals. The three counties with the most cumulative removals over the period were Los Angeles County, Calif.; Maricopa County, Ariz.; and Harris County, Texas, which all were among the first places in the country where Secure Communities was activated.
The cumulative totals are a function of several factors in combination: 1) the number of non-citizens who were arrested and identified in each jurisdiction; 2) ICE's ability to take custody and process the aliens who are identified; and 3) the extent of cooperation provided by county sheriffs. The greater the number of criminal alien arrests, ICE capacity, and local cooperation in a jurisdiction, the greater the number of removals ICE can carry out and, by extension, the greater the public safety benefits for each county.
The Secure Communities program was discontinued as part of President Obama's executive actions of November 2014. It was replaced by the Priority Enforcement Program, which has set up significant logistical and political hurdles for ICE in taking custody of criminal aliens.