No opting out of controversial Secure Communities

Protest against Secure Communities in San Francisco.
Protest against Secure Communities in San Francisco. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The Obama administration has canceled agreements with states over a Homeland Security program that shares fingerprint data with immigration agents. Democratic governors had complained about the Secure Communities program, saying the data could be used to deport illegal immigrants who were fingerprinted for minor offenses.

But it turns out that ending the agreements means little: Immigration agentswill still get the fingerprint data.

Long before Secure Communities came along, states already shared fingerprint data with the FBI. Since 9/11, a number of laws require the FBI, which is part of the Justice Department, to share information with Homeland Security. ICE — Immigration and Customs Enforcement — is part of Homeland Security, so when Justice shares with Homeland Security, it means the FBI shares with ICE. And that includes fingerprint data that states like California send to the FBI.

Some governors might not like sharing fingerprint data with ICE, but they can’t stop it. Keeping it away from ICE means keeping it away from the FBI. There are very good reasons why states, counties and law enforcement agencies want the FBI to have the fingerprints of the people they’ve arrested.

San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey — one of the loudest critics of the Secure Communities program — still doesn’t like it that someone who’s undocumented and gets arrested for a minor offense might be deported. He’s said he’ll release them from custody, and get around Secure Communities that way.

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