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Santa Clara Plans to Push Back on Immigration Enforcement Program

After Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials shot down the idea of communities opting out of an ICE program, law enforcement leaders in Santa Clara, Calif., are looking at other ways to avoid stepping up their involvement in immigration enforcement. The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted Sept. 28 to opt out of Secure Communities, a program that allows ICE agents to access fingerprints taken by local police for federal criminal background checks. Although ICE had previously maintained that communities could be removed from the program, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano confirmed on Oct. 6 that opting out is impossible.

But Santa Clara officials still don’t want to be involved and are looking for a Plan B, Renee Feltz reported at the Huffington Post today:

“I think some local governments are starting to feel painted into a corner to the point where we may have to make our own determination about who is worthy of being held for ICE and who is not,” said Anjali Bhargava, Deputy Counsel for Santa Clara County.

Bhargava is researching whether the county can ensure that “funds are only used to comply with requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to the extent they are subject to reimbursement or required by law.” [...]

The county is also looking into ways to put limits on the fingerprints sent to the state’s database, which is monitored by ICE. This has been done in El Paso County, Texas, where the sheriff says he only shares fingerprints from Class B misdemeanors and above.

Depending on how ICE responds to its concerns, Santa Clara County may ultimately direct police not to spend county resources on detaining dropped or low-level charges, like speeding or a having a broken windshield.

These solutions would address two of the major charges levied against Secure Communities: that it costs too much and that it nets too many non-criminal illegal immigrants. Secure Communities has allowed ICE to dramatically increase its detention levels, but without adequate detention center space, local jails sometimes must hold suspected illegal immigrants even if they are not charged with a crime. ICE does not reimburse local police for holding illegal immigrants for the 48 hours they can placed on detainer before being picked up by federal agents.

Secure Communities also leads to deportation of a large number of illegal immigrants who have not been convicted of a crime, which immigrant rights advocates argue creates a fear of police and harms public safety.

Santa Clara officials will meet with ICE officials on Nov. 9 to discuss the county’s involvement in the program, but it seems unlikely they will be allowed to keep fingerprints they collect from being shared between the FBI and ICE. Still, Santa Clara leaders’ interest in continuing to push for removal aligns with the reporting I’ve done on the anti-Secure Communities movement after the revelation the program is mandatory: Officials in Arlington, Va., and San Francisco have also said they will not be deterred and plan to keep pushing for an opt-out.

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