California Attorney General Jerry Brown today denied the San Francisco sheriff’s petition to opt out of a new federal program under which the fingerprints of all those arrested for any crime would be shared with federal immigration authorities.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Secure Communities program has drawn concern from Sheriff Michael Hennessey and immigration advocates because it conflicts with San Francisco’s sanctuary ordinance shielding those booked into jail for minor crimes.
ICE claims the program will be prioritized to identify and deport violent criminals who might otherwise slip through the cracks.
The fingerprints of those booked at the county jail for any crime, felony or misdemeanor, are normally sent out to the state Department of Justice to verify criminal history, and then on to the FBI to check for any out-of-state criminal history.
Under Secure Communities, which is being implemented nationwide and is scheduled to start in San Francisco June 1, the fingerprints are also shared with ICE to determine if they are believed to be in the country illegally or have been previously deported.
Previously the sheriff would only report the names of arrestees whose residency they could not verify to ICE to check with their records.
ICE claims the new system will present another method of screening to catch violent criminals who lie about their true name or residency at booking, and to prevent them from later being released back into the community.
“Because I think this program serves both public safety and the interest of justice, I am declining your request,” Brown wrote in his letter today to Hennessey.
“Using fingerprints is faster, race neutral and results in accurate information and identification,” Brown said.
“In these matters, statewide uniformity makes sense,” Brown wrote. “This is not simply a local issue. Many of the people booked in local jails end up in state prison or go on to commit crimes in other counties or states.”
But immigration advocates have contended Secure Communities will worsen public safety as the immigrant community becomes increasingly wary of reporting crimes to police, for fear they will be swept up by ICE.
Hennessy had asked Brown to intercede, claiming the state Justice Department might have the technological means to prevent fingerprints sent from San Francisco’s jail from being sent on to ICE.
“I am disappointed with the attorney general’s position, and continue to be concerned that U.S. citizens and minor offenders will be caught up in the broader net of Secure Communities,” Hennessey said in a prepared statement provided today by his spokeswoman Eileen Hirst.
“I will be studying the issue further to see how this program can be applied as fairly as possible and in the spirit of San Francisco’s sanctuary ordinance,” Hennessey said.
According to Hennessey, the sheriff’s department currently reports about 2,000 arrestees per year to ICE for review. Under the new program, he said, between 35,000 and 40,000 would be reported.
Secure Communities has already been implemented in 169 jurisdictions in 20 states, including in Alameda, Contra Costa, Solano and Sonoma counties. ICE intends to deploy the system nationwide by 2013.