U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton sent a letter to governors today terminating all existing memorandums of understanding, or MOAs, with the agency regarding Secure Communities. Several state and local leaders had been attempting to withdraw from the fingerprint-sharing program, including the governors of Illinois, Massachusetts and New York.
The decision by ICE is intended to keep the program going, even in states and jurisdictions that have announced plans to drop out. The office of California Gov. Jerry Brown has provided a copy of the letter it received today from Morton. Here are the first few paragraphs:
The letter goes on to discuss changes the agency has made to the program, among them a memo urging agency officials to use prosecutorial discretion in individual immigrants' cases, a stated focus on "individuals who meet ICE's enforcement priorities" and policies aimed at protecting victims of domestic violence and other crimes.
Secure Communities, first rolled out in 2008, allows for the fingerprints of people booked into local jails to be shared with immigration officials. State, local and law enforcement officials who have come out against it say it can alienate immigrant communities and get in the way of policing, and there have been complaints about the program casting a wider net than intended, landing people without criminal records in deportation proceedings.
Initially, many state and local leaders thought participation was optional, and the wording in existing MOAs would indicate so. Here's how part of the agreement dated January 23, 2009 between Homeland Security and the California Department of Justice reads:
This MOA may be modified at any time by mutual written consent of both parties.
This MOA may remain in effect from the date of signing until it is terminated by either party. Either party, upon written or oral notice to the other party, may terminate the MOA at any time. A termination notice shall be delivered personally or by certified or registered mail and termination shall take effect 30 days after receipt of such notice.
But local governments that attempted to drop out early on, including San Francisco, were informed they could not. The ICE letter comes as opposition to the program has mushroomed, including in California. In late May, the state Assembly passed legislation that would allow the state to renegotiate its Secure Communities contract with the Homeland Security department, allowing local jurisdictions to opt out of what is now a mandatory fingerprint-sharing program.
ICE spokeswoman Nicole Navas said earlier today that the decision to rescind the existing state-federal agreements basically means that the program may continue to operate unimpeded in all states and jurisdictions, including those where leaders have announced plans to withdraw.
MOAs in Illinois and New York, two states attempting to withdraw, had already been terminated, Navas said. Today's announcement terminated the remaining state agreements.