A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman today cast doubt on San Francisco’s ability to be completely excluded from a new federal program under which the fingerprints of all those arrested for any crime would be shared with ICE.
ICE claims the program will be prioritized to identify and deport violent criminals who might otherwise slip through the cracks.
However, some local officials and immigration advocates are worried undocumented immigrants simply arrested for any crime, however minor, could be subject to deportation.
A statement from ICE late Tuesday came in response to Sheriff Michael Hennessey’s announcement earlier in the day that he wants San Francisco to be able to opt out of the Secure Communities program, set to go into effect in the city on June 1.
The program, which is being implemented nationwide, would allow the fingerprints of those booked at the county jail for any crime–felony or misdemeanor–to be accessed by ICE through a link with the state Department of Justice’s criminal database. If a match is made with an individual already in ICE’s database, and the current or a prior crime makes them deportable, the arrestee could be turned over to ICE.
ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice explained today that local law enforcement can choose not to receive information back on whether a fingerprint match has been made with the ICE database, but that ICE would continue to receive the fingerprints of all those booked.
Kice said that return of information could aid in ongoing local criminal investigations.
Hennessey asked state Attorney General Jerry Brown in a letter Tuesday to help San Francisco opt out, saying that the program conflicts with San Francisco’s sanctuary law shielding those booked for minor crimes.
Brown’s office responded to reporters in a statement Tuesday that it was told by ICE “that they (ICE) will work with counties to opt out of their program” and it was advising such jurisdictions to contact ICE directly.
A subsequent ICE statement released to the media said, “Under Secure Communities, jurisdictions can choose not to receive the immigration-related information on individuals who are fingerprinted. Meanwhile, ICE will continue working with federal, state and local agencies to determine when jurisdictions are activated.”
There is a possibility implementation of the program in San Francisco could be delayed, Kice allowed.
“We will endeavor to accommodate or address concerns, if jurisdictions want to forestall deployment for some reason,” she said.
Still, the Sheriff’s Department holds out hope that the state Department of Justice has the technological capability to isolate out San Francisco’s fingerprint data from being linked with the ICE database, according to spokeswoman Eileen Hirst.
“At this point, Attorney General Brown has not responded to Sheriff Hennessey’s letter, so we await that response,” Hirst said.
Hennessey argued at a news conference attended by city supervisors and immigration and labor advocates at San Francisco City Hall Tuesday that Secure Communities “will widen the net (of those reported to ICE) excessively.”
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.
Hennessey said his department already reports those arrested for felonies and who are believed may be in the country illegally to ICE.
Kice said the program is intended to be catch violent criminals who are in the country illegally but could be let back on the streets because they are not providing accurate information about their residency status when they are booked.
“This is just another method of screening, to ensure that that doesn’t happen,” Kice said.
“Our priority is individuals who’ve been convicted of serious or violent criminal offenses,” she said.
Seven members of the Board of Supervisors have signed on to a non-binding resolution, introduced Tuesday, that urges the city’s law enforcement agencies, including the Sheriff’s Department, the Police Department and the Juvenile Probation Department, not to participate in Secure Communities.
Immigration rights advocates claim the program will lead to racial profiling and make communities less safe by discouraging the reporting of crimes.
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.