San Francisco won’t be opting out of Secure Communities, officials said today after a meeting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The county leadership voted to be removed from the immigration enforcement program earlier this year and was given steps for removal — beginning with a meeting like the one held today with ICE officials — before ICE officials reversed their position and said opting out from the program was actually impossible.
Today’s meeting in San Francisco proceeded much like a meeting in Arlington, Va., last week: An ICE official acknowledged misinformation surrounding the opt-out process for Secure Communities, but ultimately said counties cannot prevent fingerprints collected for criminal background checks from being shared with ICE for immigration enforcement.
The program runs up against San Francisco’s sanctuary ordinance, which forbids cooperation with ICE unless mandated by the courts or federal or state law. Sharing fingerprints, then, will still be mandatory, but San Francisco may be able to enact other changes, such as no longer holding illegal immigrants who are run through the Secure Communities system but not charged with a crime, Eileen Hirst, a spokeswoman from the San Francisco Sheriff’s office, said after the meeting.
Secure Communities director David Venturella reportedly said in the meeting that local law enforcement is not required to respond to requests by the agency to hold suspected illegal immigrants. These holds, called detainers, have been criticized for imposing costs on local police and netting too many non-criminal illegal immigrants who would otherwise be released.
Although Sheriff Michael Hennessy — a vocal critic of Secure Communities — has not yet reached a decision, Hirst said he could decide his department will no longer honor all of the detainers issued by ICE, meaning San Francisco would again let some known undocumented immigrants go free.
Still, the word from San Francisco officials that Secure Communities is mandatory is a blow to rights groups that say ICE deceived communities into thinking sharing fingerprints was optional. Advocacy groups seem unlikely to drop the issue. After Arlington’s county manager released a memo reporting the county could not opt out of Secure Communities after her Nov. 5 meeting with ICE, immigrant rights activists said they would continue to push for more information on the opt-out process.
Lucero Beebe-Giudice, a spokeswoman for Tenants and Workers United, told TWI yesterday that opponents of the program are awaiting the results of a Freedom of Information Act request to ICE on policy agreements, program communications and technology records. Immigrant rights groups hope to get information on whether it would be technologically possible to give fingerprints to the FBI for background checks without forwarding them to ICE — which would then allow communities like Arlington and San Francisco to make a new push to be removed from the program.
Santa Clara, Calif., the third community that requested an opt-out meeting, is holding a meeting on Secure Communities with ICE this afternoon.
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