Photo: ICE Secure Communities
California lawmakers are considering allowing communities to opt out of using ICE’s “Secure Communities” program. California accounts for more than a third of the deportations under the program. Secure Communities links up the FBI’s criminal database and the Department of Homeland Security’s records so that every time someone is arrested their immigration status is automatically electronically checked.
Illinois and Washington State are also both considering measures to allow their communities to choose if they wish to participate in the program.
On Tuesday, the California Assembly’s public safety committee voted to advance the bill that would only let local communities participate in the program if they choose to do so through resolution.
The measure is being met with support from immigrant advocates, and from some in law enforcement, including San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey, who has long pushed to withdraw from a program he fears will make immigrants afraid to report crime and erode their trust in law enforcement.
The debate over the ICE program heats up as federal authorities aim to achieve nationwide coverage in 2013. It currently is in effect in more than 1,200 jurisdictions in 42 states. The controversy heightened after The Associated Press reported in February that the program initially billed as voluntary by federal officials is now mandatory and that cities must turn over the fingerprint data to ICE.
“That’s the crux of this debate: can you force local law enforcement to conduct civil immigration enforcement? I think the answer is no,” said Angela Chan, staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus, adding that she does not believe federal immigration officials legally have the right to access fingerprint data taken by local agencies.