U.S. immigration officials said:
U.S. immigration officials said Wednesday they will consider San Francisco’s request to opt out of the controversial Secure Communities program that makes it easier for federal authorities to track down and deport undocumented immigrants. Until now, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, known as ICE, has rebuffed San Francisco’s contention that participation in the program is voluntary. San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey, a vocal opponent of the program, has said repeatedly that as head of the city’s jail system he does not want to participate. He fired off his latest letter to the head of the Secure Communities program Wednesday – a repeat of the same request he made Tuesday.
Federal authorities agreed Wednesday to review Hennessey’s request and convene a meeting with involved agencies, including the California Department of Justice that under Attorney General Jerry Brown has been supportive of Secure Communities and opposed to Hennessey’s requested exemption. “Based upon those discussions, ICE and its partners will examine the options and seek a feasible resolution, which may include changing the jurisdiction’s activation status,” said ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice. She added that no other jurisdiction that has implemented Secure Communities has asked to opt out of the program. Hennessey said he won’t hold his breath that change will be forthcoming. “I do not believe that the federal and state governments will find a way to make that happen,” he said. State backs program He may be right, because the federal government has deferred to the state attorney general’s office on implementation of Secure Communities in California. “Our position has not changed,” said Brown spokeswoman Christine Gasparac. Brown is running as the Democratic nominee for governor.
Hennessey, backed by a Board of Supervisors’ majority, believes that Secure Communities conflicts with San Francisco’s sanctuary city law, which limits how city workers can aid federal immigration officials. Sharing fingerprints with other agencies is not new in San Francisco. The Sheriff’s Department long has been providing inmates’ prints to the FBI and the state Department of Justice to check for matches in criminal databases. And previously, the Sheriff’s Department reported to federal immigration authorities only those in its custody who were arrested on felony charges and whose immigration status couldn’t be verified. All prints reviewed Secure Communities requires that the fingerprints of anyone booked, including those for minor offenses, are sent automatically to federal immigration authorities for review. If the fingerprints match those of someone already in a database maintained by the Department of Homeland Security on an immigration matter, ICE is alerted and deportation proceedings may be triggered. Secure Communities, which is being phased in nationwide, is now operational in nearly 600 jurisdictions across 30 states.
The program was activated in San Francisco in June. Since then, ICE has taken into custody 89 people who could face deportation, including 25 people with prior convictions for serious or violent offenses, Kice said. “Secure Communities continues to be a vital tool for identifying potentially removable criminal aliens who’ve come into local law enforcement custody and expediting their removal from the United States,” Kice said. “It’s a major step forward in ICE’s ongoing efforts to work with local law enforcement to prevent potentially dangerous criminal aliens from being released to our streets.” Hennessey said he has been – and still is – on board with the policy to report people arrested for violent crimes and other serious felonies. However, he and immigrant rights groups who are trying to overturn or amend Secure Communities don’t want local governments to be in the business of helping deport undocumented residents detained for minor offenses.