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Feds say it's not easy for California to opt out of Secure Communities fingerprints plan

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement -
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement - "Secure Communities" - Glendale and L.A. County Jails
Courtesy U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

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The state Assembly has voted to stop cooperating with federal immigration officials. But it’s not that easy for states to opt out of the federal Secure Communities program.

Congress has told immigration officials to shift the agency’s focus from workplace raids to finding criminal illegal immigrants. Under Secure Communities, the fingerprints of anyone arrested are shared with the federal government, including immigration officials. So far, 78 thousand "deportable aliens" have been identified in California jails. Civil rights activists say the program deports more small fish than serious felons.

The California Assembly bill would allow county sheriffs to opt out of the program. Not so fast, says John Morton, director of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Morton 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."

If local sheriffs stopped sharing prints with the federal government completely, they wouldn’t have access to the FBI data base and wouldn’t learn, for example, that an arrestee had been convicted of a crime outside of California.

The opt out measure still needs state Senate approval, and a signature from Governor Brown, who supported Secure Communities when he was California’s Attorney General.