San Francisco’s sheriff today asked state Attorney General Jerry Brown to help the city opt out of a new federal program that could allow undocumented immigrants accused of low-level crimes to be reported to federal immigration authorities for deportation.
Sheriff Michael Hennessey said in a letter to Brown that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Secure Communities program conflicts with San Francisco’s sanctuary law shielding those booked for minor crimes.
The new program, which is being implemented nationwide and is set to go into effect June 1 in San Francisco, 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.
ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice has said that while the new program will significantly increase the number of cases the agency reviews for possible deportation, its focus would remain on those who commit serious offenses.
Hennessey said his department already reports those arrested for felonies and who are believed may be in the country illegally to ICE.
Hennessey argued at a news conference attended by city supervisors and immigration and labor advocates at San Francisco City Hall this morning 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.
In his letter to Brown, Hennessey said he believes that the Department of Justice has the technological ability to isolate by agency the information delivered to ICE.
Hennessey also expressed concern the ICE program could be widened to include non-criminals whose fingerprints are also entered into the DOJ database, such as those who apply for government jobs.
He claimed ICE has “a record of secrecy.”
A resolution to be introduced at the Board of Supervisors today, sponsored by seven supervisors, 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.
Supervisor Eric Mar called the program “draconian” and “dangerous.” He said it would damage trust between the immigrant community and police, and “tear families apart.”
Immigrant rights advocates warned that the program will make communities less safe as victims become less willing to report crimes, and also that more could be falsely accused through racial profiling.
“If we cooperate with this program, that lack of trust will only intensify,” said Supervisor David Campos. He called for Mayor Gavin Newsom and police Chief George Gascon to support the opt-out and to acknowledge “that what’s happening at the federal level is not acceptable here in San Francisco.”
Others took the opportunity to renew the call for comprehensive federal immigration reform.
Supervisor John Avalos decried what he called “rogue departments” in the Obama administration.
“ICE I would consider a rogue department,” he said.
Hennessey and other supervisors acknowledged that it might be difficult for San Francisco to out of Secure Communities.
“It’s a little unclear because ICE’s regulations are changing,” Hennessey said.
“All I can do is ask,” he said.
If there is no change in the policy by June 1, Hennessey said his department will be forced to comply.
“I have to take people’s fingerprints,” he said. “I can’t not do that and run a safe jail.”
Secure Communities has already been implemented in 169 jurisdictions in 20 states, including in Alameda, Contra Costa, Solano and Sonoma counties.