Bay Area Jails May be Able to Opt Out of Federal Immigration Enforcement Program

The Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program called “Secure Communities” has been getting support from a number of sheriff departments, including Alameda Sheriff Greg Ahern, but not all legislators are as supportive. Secure Communities adds additional federal screening to local inmates. According to the Immigrations and Customs website:

“Through the Secure Communities strategy…the fingerprints of everyone arrested and booked are not only checked against FBI criminal history records, but they are also checked against DHS immigration records. If fingerprints match DHS records, ICE determines if immigration enforcement action is required, considering the immigration status of the alien, the severity of the crime and the alien’s criminal history.”

According to available ICE statistics, between May of 2009 and January of this year more than 65,000 illegal immigrants have been arrested or booked by ICE. Of those only 21,000 were criminals who were then deported.

The Secure Communities program is a key component of National immigration strategy. In spite of the additional funding the program might mean for local law enforcement, some legislators have been questioning the broad reach of the program. The concern seems to be the potential for prison overcrowding, civil rights, as well as the distraction from local enforcement the program might bring.

Last month, legislation called The Trust Act, was proposed by Tom Ammiano, Assemblyman from San Francisco. This would allow the state to essentially give local governments at the city or county level to opt out of the program in spite of the State’s agreement with the government. San Francisco and Santa Clara have tried before to leave the Secure Communities program, but were denied. If legislation like the Trust Act makes its way through the legislature those counties would be able to choose to participate or not.

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