San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey is continuing his quest to get San Francisco out of the federal Secure Communities program. Yesterday, he sent a letter to Attorney General Jerry Brown and the directors of Secure Communities at the Department of Homeland Security informing them (again) that San Francisco wants to opt out. Secure Communities has consistently been called a “voluntary” program. The problem, Hennessey says, is there’s no clear way out.
Secure Communities is part of a nationwide strategy shifting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) priorities towards deporting undocumented immigrants who commit crimes. Each county that participates in the program automatically shares fingerprints of those booked at the county’s jail with ICE. If ICE computers record a match with fingerprints they have in their database, and that individual shows up as having entered the country illegally, ICE can place a 48-hour hold on that person which keeps them at the county jail. ICE can then opt to pick the inmate up and presumably, begin deportation proceedings.
A lot of criticism has followed Secure Communities since its implementation, mostly because data has shown that the program ends up catching a lot of low-level criminals, a lot of people who have been arrested but not tried for a crime, and many people who have never committed a crime at all. Hennessey also says the program interferes with San Francisco’s Sanctuary City policy and with San Francisco’s efforts at community policing by making undocumented immigrants suspicious of police. ICE, meanwhile, says that they do not interfere with local policing, they just collect local data. And that they naturally sweep up more low-level offenders because there are more low-level offenders than high-level criminals out there.
Regardless of the debate, S-Comm being a “voluntary” program, the sheriff attempted to block S-Comm’s implementation in San Francisco, but protesting to the state attorney general and to ICE proved unsuccessful. Hennessey says he was told by Secure Communties’ Deputy Director Marc Rapp that there was no way for a county to opt out of the program.
Then, on August 17, ICE issued a report called “Secure Communities: Setting the Record Straight,” (.pdf) which provided some of the first responses to community groups’ criticism of the program. And it affirmed the idea that Secure Communities is a voluntary program, outlining for the first time, a pathway for getting out:
“If a jurisdiction does not wish to activate on its scheduled date in the SecureCommunities deployment plan, it must formally notify its state identificationbureau and ICE in writing (email, letter or facsimile). Upon receipt of thatinformation, ICE will request a meeting with federal partners, the jurisdiction, andthe state to discuss any issues and come to a resolution, which may includeadjusting the jurisdiction’s activation date in or removing the jurisdiction from the deployment plan.”
According to an article in this morning’s San Francisco Examiner, this doesn’t change San Francisco’s situation, because the county is already a participant in the program:
“[A] spokeswoman for ICE, Virginia Kice, said because Brown has already told the federal government the state will participate, San Francisco must also participate.
‘The state attorney general has made it clear that this is a statewide public safety issue,’ Kice said.
A spokesperson for Brown, Christine Gasparac, affirmed in an e-mail, ‘Our position has not changed.’
Angela Chan, a lawyer for the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco and a member of the city’s Police Commission, says she hopes that ICE’s communications team was working with old information when they said San Francisco must participate. She also says she fired off an angry email to Attorney General Jerry Brown, who she said has previously indicated he would not stand in the way (or help, for that matter) localities that want to opt out and find a way to do so.
I emailed ICE spokeswoman Laurie Haley and she sent this response:
“Once ICE receives the correspondence from the San Francisco County Sheriff, we will review the request and convene a meeting with the other agencies involved, including the California Department of Justice, to discuss the Sheriff’s specific issues and concerns. 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.
Since it’s activation in San Francisco County in early June, Secure Communities has resulted in ICE taking custody of 89 potentially removable aliens, including 25 individuals with prior convictions for serious or violent offenses.
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. 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.”
Here’s a copy of the letter sent by Sheriff Hennessey to Secure Communities officials and to Attorney General Brown: