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L.A. votes to support a Secure Communities opt-out

Photo by Chad Miller/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Los Angeles city leaders have become the latest elected officials to shun the federal Secure Communities immigration enforcement program, which allows for the fingerprints of people booked into local jails to be shared with immigration authorities.

The City Council voted 11-1 today to support a California bill that would allow the state to renegotiate its contract with the Homeland Security department, letting cities and counties opt out of the program. The bill recently cleared the state Assembly and goes to the Senate next.

The vote on the Los Angeles resolution is more symbolic than anything, as at present, individual jurisdictions can't choose not to participate, with the agreements between the federal government and the states. In recent weeks and days, the governors of Illinois, New York and most recently Massachusetts have announced plans to withdraw their states from Secure Communities, although federal officials have said it's not so easily done.

The idea of the program, which began rolling out in 2008, is to ferret out deportable criminals. But critics have blasted Secure Communities for netting the wrong people, and for potentially impeding policing. This afternoon, City News Service reported that Los Angeles' chief legislative analyst found that "nearly 70 percent of people deported under Secure Communities had no convictions or were accused of minor offenses." From the story:

City Councilman Bernard Parks, a former Los Angeles police chief who introduced the motion supporting the state legislation, said the program was intended to target undocumented immigrants convicted of violent crimes but has gone far astray from its original purpose.

..."One of the most significant issues of Secure Communities is that it impedes victims (from) making crime reports," Parks said. "That is a 40-year journey in the city of Los Angeles for the LAPD ... finding ways through language skills and also breaking down barriers to allow victims to come in, unimpeded to report crimes."

Anti-immigration activists will accuse Los Angeles of being a "sanctuary city" and harboring criminals, Parks said, but "the large issue for me is that this is a home-rule issue. The city of Los Angeles should set policies as it regards how they conduct business with the community in which they serve."

Councilwoman Jan Perry, who co-sponsored the motion, said Secure Communities threatens victims of domestic violence. "A woman or mother may be afraid of coming forward and speaking about criminal activity in her neighborhood for fear of getting deported or separated from her children, who could be left in an abusive situation," Perry said.

Los Angeles Police Department chief Charlie Beck recently discussed Secure Communities on KPCC's Patt Morrison Show, saying such a policy "tends to cause a divide there where there’s a lack of trust, a lack of reporting, a lack of cooperation with police."

The LAPD has a long-standing policy referred to as Special Order 40, which bars police officers from inquiring about immigration status. While it doesn't directly conflict with the federal program, the local policy aims to encourage cooperation from the city's immigrant communities.