Under the program, participating jails submit fingerprints of arrestees to immigration and criminal databases, thereby giving ICE a technological presence in prisons and jails. An overview conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan National Immigration Law Center observes that "the critical element" of the program is that, during booking in jail, arrestees' fingerprints will be checked against DHS databases, rather than just against FBI criminal databases.
"ICE asserts that the purpose of the Secure Communities program is to target violent criminals for removal," NILC observed. "Advocates had criticized the program's operation because it took place at the beginning of the criminal process and therefore indiscriminately targeted persons arrested for crimes of all magnitudes, rather than persons convicted of serious crimes."
"The underlying purpose may be to lay the groundwork for real immigration reform," NILC concludes. "But the mechanisms put in place will be difficult to dismantle, and the civil rights violations they produce cannot be undone."
Scott Lorigan of the California Department of Justice's Bureau of Criminal Identification and Information signed an interoperability agreement with ICE's John P. Torres in April 2009. Since then, the system has been activated in Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Imperial, Los Angeles, Monterey, Orange, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, and Ventura counties. Now it's set to get switched on in San Francisco.
Campos thanks Hennessey for blowing the whistle, and lays the blame at Obama's door. "None of us would have known this was happening," Campos said. "This is the time for all San Francisco's elected officials to stand up in support of the principles that led us to establish a sanctuary city. It's not just the board, but also the mayor who needs to step up and say what just happened is not acceptable. This program eviscerates sanctuary city."
Hennessey has written to California Attorney General Jerry Brown asking for assistance in opting out of the ICE program. Brown's office is reviewing his request. "The California Department of Justice manages the statewide database of fingerprints that are essential to solving crimes, but we have no direct role in enforcing federal immigration laws," Brown's press secretary Christine Gasparac clarified. "We were informed by ICE that they will work with counties to opt out of their program. Because that is a process directly between the county and ICE, we're advising local authorities who want to opt out to contact ICE directly."
But it's not clear what opting out will achieve. ICE's Kice said jurisdictions can choose not to receive the immigration-related information on individuals who are fingerprinted, but that information will still be provided to ICE, which can act on it. Kice said that after an arrestee's biometrics are forwarded to the feds, the information is bounced off FBI and DHS databases, and the information that comes back says if they have a record.
"What comes out is a recap of whatever relevant information is in the database," she said. "For example, whether there has been a prior formal deportation or a prior arrest. It also shows if they have an adjusted status — whether they have legal permanent status. It will indicate if they are naturalized, in which case they are not subject to removal. That's the information the community could cut off."