The Department of Homeland Security’s Secure Communities (S-Comm) leads local communities to distrust law enforcement, encourages racial profiling and undermines the Constitution, critics of the program said today at a press conference on Capitol Hill.

Antonio Montejano, a 40-year-old U.S. citizen wrongly ensnared by S-Comm on Nov. 5, 2011, explained how the experience affected him and his family. Montejano spent four nights locked up for a shoplifting charge after he forgot to pay for candy his children had eaten while shopping. Among $600 in purchased items, a $10 bottle of perfume had also slipped through. That charge was dismissed, but Montejano was detained because of an immigration hold, which was triggered by S-Comm despite his citizenship status.

“When I was released,” Montejano said, "my eight-year-old son said to me: ‘Dad, can this happen to me too because I look like you?’ I feel so sad when I heard him say this. But he is right. Even though he is an American citizen – just like me – he too could be detained for immigration purposes because of the color of his skin – just like me.”

Aarti Kohli, Director of Immigration Policy at the Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy, Berkeley Law, University of California, said that 3,600 U.S. citizens have been apprehended by ICE from the inception of the program through April 2011. Kohli has co-authored the report, “Secure Communities by the Numbers: An Analysis of Demographics and Due Process,” which revealed many problems with S-Comm.

“The administration has a very technical definition of Secure Communities, but it’s very different than the reality,” Kohli said, explaining that evidence points to the fact that S-Comm encourages racial profiling and impacts U.S. citizens and families as well as immigrants.

Ronald Hampton, the Washington Representative of Blacks in Law Enforcement in America and a retired police officer who served in the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., for 24 years, said S-Comm causes communities to distrust the police.

“It’s the federal government’s role to enforce immigration violations,” Hampton said. “Police officers have enough to do. Local police should be building relationships and doing crime prevention – we don’t have the extra resources.”

The Honorable J. Walter Tejada, member of the Arlington County Board, explained how Arlington County was the first local government to seek an opt-out from S-Comm. Tejada said the program created fear in the immigrant community, which had always trusted the police in Arlington.

“This was imposed on us, we didn’t ask for it,” Tejada said. “Our police haven’t asked for this. We do not want our police officers to be immigration agents.”

Ali Noorani, National Immigration Forum's executive director, called on DHS to fix S-Comm before implementing the program in all jurisdictions nationwide.

“We believe that until the DHS can assure the public that critical problems with Secure Communities have been remedied, the program should be suspended,” Noorani said.