States Begin Defection from S-Com: First Up Illinois, California on Deck

Posted on May 5, 2011


Illinois has cast the first salvo in the opt-out battle against the S-Comm program, with California looking as if it will follow suit.  The Chicago News Cooperative reports that Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has officially notified ICE that the Illinois State Police will opt out of the program, just ahead of bills entering the state legislature that would make S-Comm optional for Illinois local police forces if passed.It’s unclear what impact this will have on what is an apparently mandatory participation that ICE insists is still in effect.

California is set to follow suit, with similar legislation regarding local participation in the program. AB 1081 has emerged from committee and is ready for a full vote from the Assembly. San Francisco Sheriff Mike Hennessy testified as to the negative impact on immigrant communities, and in policing them, for the Assembly Public Safety Committee last week. He posts a withering critique of the program in an Op Ed in the San Francisco Chronicle this week:

The use of fingerprints to initiate immigration scrutiny is of particular concern to victims of domestic violence. In a recent case in San Francisco, a woman called 911 to report domestic violence, but the police arrested both her and her partner. Although no charges were ever filed against the woman, she is now fighting deportation. There should be no penalty for a victim of a crime to call the police.

All it takes is a fingerprint.

It does not matter if the person is innocent because the fingerprints are transmitted to ICE at arrest, prior to criminal court proceedings. ICE’s own data show that 29 percent of people deported because of Secure Communities are classified as non-criminals. The result is often that a child is taken from a parent, or an individual raised since childhood in the United States is deported to the country where he was born but where he has no family and doesn’t even speak the language.

This fear of the arbitrary use of immigration laws is only reinforced when you have a high-ranking ICE official telling law enforcement, “If you don’t have enough evidence to charge someone criminally but you think he’s illegal, we can make him disappear.” This is a quote from James Pendergraph, the former executive director of the ICE Office of State and Local Coordination, who was speaking in 2008 to the Police Foundation’s national conference on immigration issues.

My main criticism of Secure Communities is that it casts too wide a net and scoops up the fingerprints of everyone not born in the United States whether or not they pose a criminal risk…I don’t think people should be deported for a traffic ticket or for operating a tamale cart in the Mission.

For these reasons, I have repeatedly asked ICE to allow the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department to opt out of Secure Communities. ICE has not been forthright or truthful in its responses. First, ICE officials said a local community could “opt out” and even prescribed a procedure. When it became clear that San Francisco, Santa Clara and other jurisdictions were interested in opting out, the ICE officials then reversed course and declared that no one could opt out. ICE also refuses to inform local authorities if the agency has released back into the community those previously arrested.

… Local jurisdictions cannot and should not be lied to and coerced into doing the work of the federal government. Let the feds enforce national immigration laws and leave local law enforcement out of it.