'Secure communities' program to move forward in SF

June 1, 2010 1:12:41 PM PDT
Despite protests from immigrant rights groups, it appears a new sheriff's booking program that will allow more information to flow between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities will move forward in San Francisco, though a week later than previously thought.

The controversial Secure Communities program has drawn the concern of San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey, who warned that it will conflict with the city's sanctuary policy shielding those booked for minor crimes. He warned that thousands more will now be reported to U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement.

Hennessey has said he was told the program, which is being implemented nationwide, would begin in San Francisco today, but an ICE spokeswoman said this morning it will actually begin June 8.

ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said the June 1 activation date "was discussed at one point as a possibility, but ICE always underscores that the Secure Communities deployment schedule is projected and subject to change."

In California, the program is already active in 17 counties, including Alameda, Contra Costa, Solano and Sonoma counties.

Under the new system, the fingerprints of those arrested for any crime -- felony or misdemeanor -- will be shared with ICE via the state criminal database to determine whether to place an immigration hold and initiate deportation proceedings. Previously, the sheriff would only report the names of arrestees whose residency could not be verified.

ICE claims Secure Communities will allow greater screening to catch violent criminals, including those with prior convictions, who lie about their name or residency at booking, and prevent them from later being released back into the community.

Kice said ICE would consider delaying implementation in specific jurisdictions.

"We want to be receptive to local concerns, and we want to work with local agencies to address any issues they have," Kice said.

San Francisco sheriff's spokeswoman Eileen Hirst said she was unaware of the June 8 date change and said her agency has not requested a delay.

Dozens rallied outside a local ICE office in San Francisco this morning to protest the program, according to Asian Law Caucus attorney Angela Chan.

The protesters claim that, contrary to the program's name, it will not make communities safer but rather discourage members of the immigrant community from reporting crimes to police, Chan said.

Despite ICE claims that the federal agency will prioritize the most serious offenders, immigrant rights groups are concerned that those arrested for minor crimes could also face deportation.

Chan, who was recently appointed to the city's police commission, said she was speaking today as an attorney for the Asian Law Caucus and not on behalf of the commission.

According to ICE, of the 2.2 million fingerprint queries entered into the system nationwide since the program began in October 2008 through April of this year, 10,810 "level one" serious offenders were booked into ICE custody and of those, 6,135 were deported. A total of 19,700 lesser offenders were taken into ICE custody and 14,390 were deported, ICE said.

In California, from July 2009 through this April, of the 483,583 queries into the system, 3,657 serious offenders were booked into ICE custody and 2,254 deported, according to ICE. A total of 4,439 lesser offenders were booked into ICE custody and of those, 3,027 have been deported.

A resolution urging the city to opt out of the Secure Communities program, sponsored by eight supervisors, is still being considered by the Board of Supervisors.

Attorney General Jerry Brown, whom Hennessey had petitioned to allow San Francisco to opt out, refused the request on May 25.


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