© 2024 KALW 91.7 FM Bay Area
KALW Public Media / 91.7 FM Bay Area
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Secure Communities and the federal deportation program

Here in the Bay Area, we’ve seen the immigration debate manifest itself mostly in a controversy over the federal immigration program Secure Communities. The program requires local jails to share fingerprints of everyone they arrest with immigration enforcement officials. KALW’s Rina Palta sat down with the California Immigrant Policy Center's Jon Rodney to talk about how things are going.

JON RODNEY: So the so-called Secure Communities program, which we prefer to call S-COM – because really it doesn’t make anyone any safer – is a federal deportation program. It’s tremendously controversial, and it is undermining public safety. It is putting victims and witnesses of crimes at risk of being deported, and also burdening our local governments.

The program operates through the sending of fingerprints. Whenever someone is arrested for any reason at all, their fingerprints are now sent off not just to the FBI, as they always were, but also to immigration officials. So from that fingerprint, what can come back almost instantly is what is called a detainer, or hold request. And that is a cruel request to trap a community member in our local jails when they would otherwise be let go. So we’ve seen victims, survivors of domestic violence, who may be arrested along with their abuser. And then they’re about to be let go as they should be, and suddenly they have this hold and it’s this terrifying moment where you can’t get out of jail and you’re held there for extra time. The local government pretty much foots the bill, then ICE comes and kind of drags you into this shadowy network of detention facilities that – as viewers or listeners may have seen, the Lost in Detention series – have a lot of abuses going on. And so that is essentially how the program works. And what we saw is ICE said, "we’re going to target, serious criminal convictions," but the statistics show that that’s overwhelmingly not the case. About seven in ten of the 65,000 Californians deported – and I want everyone to think about that as a huge number of people – seven in ten of those folks were not in this serious conviction category. So there are so many mothers and fathers and students and young people and ice cream vendors who’ve all been swept up into this dragnet and been torn from their families and it’s really a mess.

RINA PALTA: Originally, there was a big debate over whether this program was voluntary or involuntary, whether localities had to participate if they didn’t want to, especially places that are sanctuaries like San Francisco, for instance. What’s the status of that? Do we know how voluntary this program is?

RODNEY: So I think there are two pieces to that. There is the issue of sending the fingerprints, which is still not…There’s a memo that was released in December that basically showed that the motivations behind ICE declaring this “mandatory” were policy and not legal. There isn’t very firm legal ground and an early version of the memo had raised more constitutional questions, and then later on the memos started to brush those aside. So that is still an issue.

But the second piece is, when that request, that cruel, hold this person in jail, just so we can sweep them up and deport them, when that request comes back that is optional. So in the freedom of information act lawsuit that was – there are many references from immigration itself to that fact, and there is a court case from 2011, Boucher vs. Indianapolis, that also shows these are requests. And especially with that, then we did see localities, including here and the Bay Area, Santa Clara County, say, "We are going to reform what we do about these requests." There was quite a broad reform in Santa Clara county and other locations – in San Francisco, the sheriff did make some changes as well, Sheriff Hennessey. The Trust Act, which listeners may have heard of, has been reformed.  Precisely because, and if I can go into a little of the history, this was a bill we had an agreement between California and ICE. The trust act would amend that agreement in its original form and say, "Santa Clara, San Francisco, other places – they want out. So they can get out. And if you want in, then let’s have a few standards so that these really horrible things don’t happen."

It passed the assembly 47-26. It passed the Senate Public Safety to the point where several members of that committee said. "I want to be a co-sponsor." And then on August 5, in what was really a stunning display of bad faith, ICE ripped up all of these contracts with California and every other state, and said, "You know what, you still have to do this." This being the fingerprints. So we went back to the drawing board. We had a four month process of consultation with community groups across the state, and then we have now unveiled the Trust Act 2.0. And again, what that is: it’s the first state-level bill in the nation of it’s kind, that addresses this issue of these cruel requests to hold people in our local jails, which is sucking up resources and space, and is trapping people in our local jails. What it does is, it limits that quite a bit, so that there’s a clear, minimum standard for local governments not to detain people for deportation unless that individual has a serious or violent felony conviction as defined by state law. So that means we wont see ice cream vendors, survivors of domestic violence, and so many other people, swept up, torn from their families and then really the wave of fear that creates.

PALTA: So what’s the support like, are you getting any pushback from some of the border counties that deal with a large influx of immigrants?

RODNEY: No, I think that what we’ve seen in terms of support – there was an event at the cathedral of San Francisco on January 28, where the archbishop of San Francisco himself, led a gathering of about 2,000 people and assembly member Ammiano was there. And there was a great concern raise that S-COM is hurting public safety, is hurting families, and that the state needs to take action to adjust this deportation crisis. So I think that there is a growing recognition that this program is broken beyond repair, and that we as Californians need to take leadership so that we can restore some of the trust between communities and law enforcement that S-COM has broken.

What's your take on the Secure Communities program? Let us know at 415-264-7106.

Rina Palta reports on criminal justice for KALW News. Through stories of those affected by the system, she hopes to bring insight to an often misunderstood, polarizing, and politicized issue. Rina came to KALW from a print background, having worked in magazines for a number of years before being pulled into broadcast while earning a masters degree at UC Berkeley's School of Journalism. Along with KALW, her work has been published in Mother Jones magazine, the San Francisco Weekly, and Hyphen magazine. Rina edits and writes for KALW's criminal justice blog, The Informant, where you can find news and analysis on all aspects of California's criminal justice world.