Secure Communities could become mandatory in 2013, says ICE memo

Dozens of immigration activists gathered today at Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Los Angeles to protest the federal deportation program
Dozens of immigration activists gathered today at Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Los Angeles to protest the federal deportation program "Secure Communities." (August 15, 2011)
Corey Moore/KPCC

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A recent federal immigration enforcement memo suggests that the immigration enforcement program called “Secure Communities” could become mandatory. Critics say the plan unfairly targets undocumented workers and U.S. citizens. Federal officials had said states and local governments would have the opportunity to opt out.

Federal authorities presented Secure Communities in 2008 as a way to target people convicted of serious crimes. But critics today say that the information-sharing effort has instead set many immigrants up for deportation, even when their criminal records are clean or include only low level crimes.

A nine-page internal Justice Department memo that recently became public warns of more limited choices for law enforcement agencies that have restricted or bypassed participation in Secure Communities.

The memo also runs contrary U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement's (ICE's) previous concerns about how mandatory enforcement of Secure Communities could raise "Tenth Amendment concerns."

In an earlier memo ICE concluded that “a court may find that [Secure Community]'s infrastructure, purpose, and activities mark it a program and, thus, could find that ICE cannot compel [local governments] to participate."

However, the memo released Monday (and dated October of last year) argues that accusations of Tenth Amendment violations would likely fail in court, concluding that "the process, in essence, [will become] 'mandatory' in 2013."

Federal authorities defended the memo in an email to the Los Angeles Times, maintaining that ICE has had that policy in place all along.

"ICE did not change its position on the mandatory nature of Secure Communities," spokeswoman Virginia Kice told the Times. "As the legal memo explains, once a state or local government voluntarily submits fingerprint information to federal law enforcement officials, it cannot dictate how this information is shared to protect public safety."

A judge ordered federal officials to release the document after several advocacy groups filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled in October that since ICE had read from the memos aloud, they had effectively adopted them as "an official response."

Southern California immigration activists have pushed for California to join the few states that have opted out of Secure Communities, a list that includes New York, Illinois and Massachusetts.