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County of Santa Clara to Request to Opt Out of Secure Communities Program

County to Formally Request that the Federal Government Cease Operating Immigration Enforcement Program in the County’s Jail

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF.—Today, the County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to authorize efforts to opt out of the Secure Communities Program. This federal program involves local law enforcement in the enforcement of federal immigration law through an automated information-sharing system that compares fingerprint data collected by local agencies with a federal immigration status database.

After hearing from community leaders, the Supervisors agreed that implementation of Secure Communities in Santa Clara County conflicts with the County’s policy not to participate in the enforcement of federal immigration law. The Supervisors further noted that participation might jeopardize the safety of County residents by causing residents not to call police or seek services out of fear that their immigration status will be questioned. The Secure Communities Program has been widely criticized for resulting in the detention and deportation of people with no criminal convictions or convictions for minor offenses like driving without a license, despite being promoted as a program targeting serious offenders.

“From my perspective, this program does not make any community in our County safer, because it creates fear among our residents and prevents them from reporting crime,” said Supervisor George Shirakawa, Chair of the Board’s Public Safety and Justice Committee. “Our responsibility as a County is not to enforce immigration law at the expense of losing our residents’ trust.”

Under current law, the fingerprints of anyone arrested in the County are sent electronically to the California Department of Justice. Historically, the Department of Justice has shared this information with the federal government for criminal law enforcement purposes only. However, under Secure Communities, the Justice Department has allowed fingerprint data collected by local agencies to be compared against fingerprints in the Department if Homeland Security’s Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) for the purposes of enforcing civil immigration laws. When this comparison leads to the identification of such individuals, federal agents seek the assistance of the County in detaining, questioning, and eventually taking custody of individuals.

“It is unfortunate this so called voluntary federal program was implemented without our knowledge and without our approval,” said Ken Yeager, President of the County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors. “We strive to implement transparent policies that are consistent with our priorities. We do not see how this kind of forced ‘collaboration’ can make Santa Clara County a better place.”

In response to a request from County Counsel Miguel Márquez, the Department of Homeland Security has confirmed that Secure Communities is a voluntary program and provided a potential “Opt Out” process.

Through today’s vote, the Board authorized the County Executive and County Counsel to take all necessary actions to allow the County to opt out of participation in Secure Communities. Following the Board’s direction, the County Executive and County Counsel plan to send a formal notification to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) and the California Attorney General requesting that they cease using fingerprints collected in the county to determine immigration status or investigate immigration violations.

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

Media Contacts: Gwendolyn Mitchell/Marina Hinestrosa, Office of Public Affairs (408) 299-5119; Miguel Márquez, County Counsel, (408) 299-5902.
Posted: September 28, 2010