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ICE official reportedly unaware of domestic violence argument against Secure Communities

I have a story today on the ever-confusing opt-out process for Secure Communities, an immigration enforcement program that shares fingerprints collected by local police with federal immigration officials. David Venturella, the executive director of Secure Communities, met with county officials in Arlington, Va., San Francisco and Santa Clara, Calif., recently to report that their localities cannot abstain from sharing fingerprints with Immigration and Customs Enforcement — even though the counties claim that doing so violates their law enforcement policies of avoiding checks on immigration status.

The problem with the program, according to critics, is that it sometimes nets non-criminal illegal immigrants, including victims of domestic abuse. Police sometimes arrest (and fingerprint) both parties in instances of domestic violence, then later charge the person determined to be the likely perpetrator and release the other(s) without filing charges. In the three counties that wanted to be removed from Secure Communities, police said the program could deter undocumented immigrants from reporting crime and lessen overall public safety.

But when law enforcement officials in San Francisco mentioned this concern to Venturella, he was reportedly confused and said he hadn’t heard of such a concern, according to a lawyer who was briefed on the Tuesday meeting.

“David Venturella was confused by the domestic violence problem,” Angela Chan, a staff attorney with Asian Law Caucus who has been critical of Secure Communities, told TWI. “ICE didn’t have much of a response. I don’t know if they were being disingenuous and they hadn’t heard of it, but it’s a pretty common criticism of the program.”

ICE did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

In general, Chan said she was told community policing concerns were not addressed by ICE officials during the meeting in San Francisco on Tuesday. But such concerns have been a central tenet of why counties asked to be removed from the program in the first place — and have gotten a reasonable amount of media attention.

The Washington Post reported on Nov. 1 about a Hyattsville, Md., woman who called the police after a fight with her partner. The woman, who is in the country illegally, claims the call put her on the radar of a local police officer who later charged her with illegally selling phone cards, an allegation she denies. The charge was thrown out, but her fingerprints had already been shared with immigration authorities under Secure Communities, and she now faces deportation.

ICE officials told the Post the agency has the right to pursue deportation if it discovers someone is in the country illegally:

“ICE cannot and will not turn a blind eye to those who violate federal immigration law,” said Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Brian Hale. “While ICE’s enforcement efforts prioritize convicted criminal aliens, ICE maintains the discretion to take action on any alien it encounters.”

In other situations, critics of the Secure Communities program say that police make two arrests and then determine who is the victim of abuse once at the station — but after fingerprints have begun to make their way into the hands of immigration authorities.

The immigration system has some protection for victims of domestic violence: As I mentioned yesterday, foreign-born spouses of Americans can petition for citizenship on their own — bypassing abusive spouses — if they can prove abuse. For undocumented immigrants, U visas are available to victims of certain crimes, including domestic violence. These visas grant victims the right to remain in the United States and work legally, but are granted based on the discretion of law enforcement agencies, which sometimes differ on what crimes merit the visas.

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