Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

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)
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.

Secure Communities, which was intended to find deportable criminals, began rolling out nationwide in 2008. Since then, criticism has come from some law enforcement officials who say it can potentially impede policing, as well as from immigrant advocates who complain that it nets not only criminals, but immigrants without criminal records who are deported anyway.

Several local jurisdictions have tried to opt out without success, including San Francisco, where the sheriff has announced that he will no longer hold otherwise releasable people in jail for ICE.

Earlier this month, the governor of Illinois announced plans to pull his state out of the program, but Homeland Security officials said the department would not allow Illinois law enforcement to opt out of sharing information with immigration authorities.

At the same time, the program’s implementation in each state was guided by a document known as a “memorandum of understanding,” or MOA, between Homeland Security and state officials. Language in the 2009 MOA between the federal government 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.

The same language exists in the MOA agreed to by Illinois officials.