Federal program may undercut sanctuary policy

May 7, 2010 7:39:49 PM PDT
Critics of a new Homeland Security fingerprinting program charge it would undercut San Francisco's sanctuary city policy.

The federal Secure Communities program, which was enacted two years ago from the recommendations of the 911 Commission, is being phased in nationwide. The booking information, which includes fingerprints of those arrested, will be electronically turned over to Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.

In California, booking information and fingerprints of arrestees are sent to the State Department of Justice's databank.

In San Francisco, the Sheriff's Department only reports foreign born felony suspects to ICE. But now under the new federal program, all of the fingerprints the Sheriff's Department submits to the State DOJ will automatically be transferred to ICE.

"So, we book between 35,000-40,000 people a year and now all of them will be reported to ICE," Sheriff Mike Hennessey said. "There'll be no need for us anymore to report anyone to ICE. They'll automatically get that information electronically now."

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has no reservations.

"It doesn't significantly change what we're doing already," he said. "Sanctuary policy was never enacted to shield criminals. It was never conceived to do that."

ICE officials say they are just getting information that has always been available to the FBI through the state database. Officials also say they are only interested in violent criminals who are in the U.S. illegally.

"Absolutely our priority is what we define as level one offenders, and that's of course, national security cases, rape, murder, robbery, the big ones," San Francisco ICE field office spokesperson Craig Meyer said.

But Supervisor David Campos says, if that is the case, why ask for all the information?

"I believe that is going too far," Campos, who himself was once an illegal immigrant, said. "How do we know ICE will only go after violent criminals, which they should? They'll have access to all that information and who knows what they'll do with it."

The program starts next month in San Francisco; four other Bay Area counties have already joined. ICE says by 2013, every sheriff's department in the country will be in the system.


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