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County of Santa Clara Denied Opt-Out of Immigration Enforcement Program

Federal Officials Say They Will Continue Operating the Secure Communities Program in the County’s Jail Against the County’s Will

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF.—The County of Santa Clara learned Tuesday that federal and state officials will block the County’s efforts to opt out of the Secure Communities Program, a federal program through which arrestee fingerprint data collected by local agencies is shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

County officials say fingerprint sharing from Santa Clara County was turned on in May 2010, without approval from the Board of Supervisors or any other County official. After the County raised concerns about the program, Senior ICE official David Venturella, who directs the Secure Communities Program, sent a letter to County Counsel Miguel Márquez stating that ICE would meet with counties to discuss removing them from the program.

On September 28th, the County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to seek to remove the County from the information-sharing program.

“Our Board has serious concerns about this program. Contrary to how ICE has described the program, it does not target only violent, criminal aliens. Instead, people with no criminal records are being apprehended and deported for minor offenses like traffic violations,” said Supervisor George Shirakawa, Chair of the Board’s Public Safety and Justice Committee. “This program makes innocent people afraid of law enforcement. Our County does not want to be at the forefront of new immigration enforcement programs that will make us lose our residents’ trust.”

Secure Communities Director Venturella met with County Counsel Márquez on Tuesday. When Márquez informed Venturella that the County would like to be removed from the Secure Communities program, Márquez says Venturella went back on his word that counties would be allowed to opt out of the program.

“ICE now insists that there was never any avenue for the County to opt out,” Márquez said. “This is clearly inconsistent with our written communication with ICE, as well as what ICE has told the public and congressional representatives about this program.”

“When ICE repeatedly denied the obvious discrepancy between their past and present statements and made clear that they had not come to offer the County any meaningful options, we ended the meeting,” Márquez said. “It is clear that ICE is not interested in hearing about the program’s impact on communities or engaging with localities in good faith.”

According to ICE reports, ICE has already arrested over 500 people in Santa Clara County through Secure Communities since it became operational in May, a quarter of whom had no criminal record.

Background

In May 2009 the California Department of Justice entered into a Memorandum of Agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) allowing for implementation of Secure Communities in California localities. Since then, the program has been deployed in 38 of 58 counties, including Santa Clara County.

The County of Santa Clara learned of Secure Communities in October 2009, when the Department of Correction (DOC) received an informational packet from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The packet included a set of Standards Operating Procedures for the program and a questionnaire regarding current booking practices in the County jail.

Based on its understanding that the program was voluntary, the County did not take any action or complete and return the questionnaire. However, in April of 2010, ICE notified the County that it was going to activate Secure Communities. When notified that the Board of Supervisors had not approved participation in this program, ICE stated that approval was not necessary, and activated the program in Santa Clara County on May 4, 2010.

The Board of Supervisors’ unanimous decision to opt out of Secure Communities followed extensive testimony by community members in August and September, as well as consultation with legal counsel and local law enforcement officials at public meetings.

Between May 4th and September 30th, ICE reported that Secure Communities in Santa Clara County led to:

523 people arrested or booked into ICE custody (133 – 1 in 4 – with no criminal record)
241 people removed from the United States (81 – 1 in 3 – with no criminal record).

Media Contact: Gwendolyn Mitchell/Laurel Anderson, Office of Public Affairs (408) 299-5119, Miguel Márquez, County Counsel (408) 299-5902
Posted: November 10, 2010