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Communities Opt Out of Immigration Enforcement Program

The first state communities are beginning to opt out of Secure Communities, a fingerprint-sharing program between local police and federal immigration enforcement officers. The program, which the Department of Homeland Security plans to extend nationwide by 2013, goes against some communities’ philosophies about policing immigration. Although the program has always been called optional, DHS only recently released steps to opt out.

The first two state communities voted to opt out yesterday. The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors in California was first, voting unanimously to opt out Tuesday. The Arlington County Board in Virginia voted later in the day to withdraw from the program. (D.C. opted out earlier under a different — and simpler — process because it does not belong to a state.)

Immigrants rights groups and some local law enforcement leaders have been advocating for months for an opt-out option on Secure Communities, arguing the program too often nets non-criminal illegal immigrants. But the protocol to withdraw from the program remained elusive until August, when DHS released a document explaining the process. Communities must notify and meet with state leaders and ICE before they can opt out.

They may face opposition from state attorney generals, such as California Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown, who blocked San Francisco Sheriff Mike Hennessey’s effort to opt out of the program.

A spokesman for Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli — who is known for fighting against Obama policies — released the following statement on Arlington’s decision:

“The program is called Secure Communities because that is exactly what it promotes. It is unfortunate that Arlington has decided not to participate in a program that deports illegal aliens who are convicted of crimes in our communities. Because this law enforcement initiative is targeting those committing crimes, it has strong bipartisan support, including from the Obama administration, which has said it wants the program operating nationwide by 2013.”

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