Just two weeks before a controversial collaboration between local police and ICE is set to get switched on in San Francisco, Sups. Eric Mar, John Avalos, David Campos, Chris Daly and Sophie Maxwell are introducing a resolution that calls on the city to opt out of a program that could undermine public safety and threaten innocent community members with deportation.
Sheriff Michael Hennessey, who blew the whistle on this program, and Labor Council Executive Director Tim Paulson will join the supervisors May 18, 9 a.m. on the steps of City Hall. The resolution will be formally introduced at the Board's afternoon meeting.
Sup. Mar's legislative aide Lin-Shao Chin told the Guardian that it looks like an opt-out option is possible.
"It's very vague, the way it's written," Chin said, referring to the contract that the Department of Homeland Security has drafted and that cities are required to sign onto, via a statement of intent."So, while it doesn't say you can opt out, it's very vague, and from what we've heard, so far it's all just been verbal communication between the law enforcement agencies."
The fed's proposed Secure Communities Initiative (SCI) has been criticized by civil rights experts.They say the program causes immigrants to be reported for deportation without due process and that it destroys trust between the police and immigrant communities.
The program seeks to check the immigration status of anyone whose fingerprints are taken by law enforcement personnel by cross-checking fingerprints through a federal database. They warn that immigrants who are simply charged with very minor charges - such as selling ice cream bars without a permit-- or those who are overcharged on arrest--could end up torn from their families without due process and reported for deportation.
Advocates see similarities between the program and Arizona's SB1070, since SCI gives discretion to individual police officers, who may mistakenly arrest or overcharge innocent immigrant residents, thereby triggering their deportation.
"ICE's own statistics, cited in news reports, indicate that some 88 percent of the 33,000 immigrants deported to date under the program had committed non-violent offenses or no offense at all," community advocates note.
"Five percent of people tagged are actually documented, and only 10 percent are actually felons," Chin claimed, warning that there is also, "the potential for a whole bunch of databases, including those containing information on legal citizens, to be hooked together in ways that pose civil liberty concerns."
Earlier this month, Washington, DC's City Council unanimously introduced legislation that would prohibit local police from sharing arrest and booking information with ICE. But the Board's resolution will be the first in the nation to urge an opt-out.
"The feds didn't present opting-out as an option, they made it sound compulsory, but immigrant groups who met with ICE were verbally told the could opt out," Chin claimed.
"Immigrant advocates in Contra Costa and Alameda counties didn't even know their cities had opted into the program, until folks were referred to ICE. The good news is that we are touching this before we have been hooked into the program."
Chin said it seems the SFPD CHief George Gascon's office is "under the impression that the program is mandatory, but that's not the impression we get from ICE."
Chin also noted that the SCI is an "unfunded mandate," since there could be costs to cities and municipalities who have to hold folks in jail longer than usual, while they wait for the feds to come and pick them up.
"From what we have heard, these [SCI] contracts are negotiated at the state level," Chin added, suggesting that the ball on this issue in California lies within Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown's court.