How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Emails illustrate how non-criminals can get caught up in Secure Communities

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A series of newly released emails between California and federal officials from last year adds more fuel to the debate over the arrests of non-criminal immigrants under Secure Communities. The federal immigration enforcement program allows the fingerprints of people booked by local police to be shared with immigration officials.

Since not long after its inception in 2008, Secure Communities has been under fire from immigrant advocates, state and local officials in several states, and some law enforcement. Critics complain that the program casts too wide of a net. While its stated goal is to arrest immigrants with serious criminal records for deportation, the program has landed many people who had no convictions or only minor ones in removal proceedings.

Immigrants fingerprinted following traffic stops are at issue in the emails, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by immigrant rights advocates and the immigration clinic of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at New York's Yeshiva University. The emails detail a back-and forth between federal and California Department of Justice officials, who ask if it's possible not to send data on non-criminals stopped at license checkpoints to Homeland Security.


'TRUST Act 2.0': Amended CA bill would only let cops hold convicted criminals for ICE

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A year ago, a bill was moving through the California state legislature that aimed to make optional counties and cities' participation in the controversial Secure Communities immigration enforcement program.

At the time, California was one of several states in which some state and law enforcement officials had come out against the federal program, which allows the fingerprints of people booked at local jails to be shared with immigration officials.

The bill was rendered moot last August, after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement rescinded state agreements with the agency allowing Secure Communities to operate. The decision essentially made the program mandatory, leaving states no choice but to go along.

As a counter to that, the same California lawmaker behind last year's bill is now pushing an alternative dubbed TRUST Act 2.0. The idea is for local agencies to work with ICE as mandated, but only to a point, since the bill proposes restricting who it is that law enforcement agencies can hold for deportation at the request of ICE.


'TRUST Act 2.0' would limit local cops' cooperation with Secure Communities

Photo by Chad Miller/Flickr (Creative Commons)

In August, after the federal government rescinded state contracts related to the Secure Communities immigration enforcement program, those states that at the time were trying to opt out of the controversial fingerprint-sharing program seemed to have little choice but to comply.

But there's another option, at least according to a California state legislator who is retooling a bill from last year to allow for another kind of out: Restricting how law enforcement agencies hold immigrants for deportation at the request of federal immigration officials.

The yet-to-be-introduced California bill is a retooled version of the TRUST Act, a measure approved last May by the state Assembly that would have allowed the state to renegotiate its contract with the feds and allowed local jurisdictions to opt out of Secure Communities if they wanted to. It had begun moving through the Senate when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton sent a letter to state governors terminating the contracts, whose language did not suggest the program was mandatory.


Secure Communities reform: Does anyone benefit?

Photo by Chad Miller/Flickr (Creative Commons)

It's been a few days since U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced planned reforms to its embattled Secure Communities enforcement program, which allows the fingerprints of people booked into local jails to be shared with immigration authorities.

The idea behind the changes, announced Friday, is to better focus the program on deporting serious criminals, to better train local law enforcement to understand its priorities, and to address any potential civil rights concerns.

Several immigrant advocates have denounced the changes as window dressing, but will any of these tweaks make a difference as to how many people get deported, and who? A few analyses since Friday's announcement have tried to answer this question.

  • A Houston Chronicle piece yesterday zeroed in on a key component, a memo from ICE director John Morton urging the use of prosecutorial discretion when determining who should be detained or deported, potentially sparing many. Morton's guidelines "instruct ICE officials to consider everything from a suspected illegal immigrant's community contributions to criminal history before making a determination on a case." More from the story:


Opting out of Secure Communities? Not so fast, ICE official says

Photo by Chad Miller/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Photo by Chad Miller/Flickr (Creative Commons)

The California Assembly voted last week to approve a bill that seeks to extricate the state from Secure Communities, a federal immigration enforcement program in which the fingerprints of people who land in local jails are checked against a database of immigration records.

The bill, which now moves to the state Senate, would allow California to renegotiate its contract with the Department of Homeland Security, letting local jurisdictions opt out of what is now a mandatory program or the state to opt out altogether.

But can this really happen? Not so fast, says a top Homeland Security official interviewed by KPCC's Kitty Felde. From a story today:

John Morton, director of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, says local jurisdictions don’t have the power to pick and choose.

"An individual state can’t come to the federal government and say, 'We don’t want the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to share information or seek to prevent that information sharing.' That is between federal departments."

The bill still needs approval from the state Senate, and from Gov. Jerry Brown, who supported Secure Communities when he was California’s attorney general.