When San Francisco Sheriff Mike Hennessy wanted to opt out of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s Secure Communities program earlier this year, he was told he didn’t really have that option. “I wrote to the state attorney general, I wrote to ICE officials, and I was told there was no opt out,” Hennessy said.
So Secure Communities—S-COMM for short—which requires local law enforcement to fingerprint anyone under arrest and send the prints to the Department of Homeland Security, went into effect in San Francisco in June over the objections of Hennessy and the Board of Supervisors. Now a seven-page ICE memo, titled “Setting the Record Straight,” suggests there might be an opt-out provision after all.
“ICE finally acknowledged it. We knew it was voluntary all along,” Angela Chan, staff attorney at the San Francisco-based Asian Law Caucus, said Wednesday during a teleconference call. “There is no way they can impose it on localities. It is a federal program, not a federal law.”
Some 30 states and 574 local jurisdictions have already signed onto S-COMM. It’s unclear how many of them knew they were not legally required to participate.
ICE just released the August 17 memo after intense pressure from immigration and civil rights activists and a Freedom of Information Act request filed earlier this year.
ICE claimed that it was issuing the memo to refute “several false claims” made by groups such as the Center for Constitutional Rights, National Day Laborers’ Organizing Network, and the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
The process for opting out was “buried” on the second-to-last page, said Sarahi Uribe, lead organizer of the Uncover the Truth Campaign for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
According to the memo, if a city or county decides not to participate in the program, it must formally notify its state identification bureau and ICE in writing (email, letter or facsimile) by the scheduled “deployment date.” Upon receipt, ICE will request a meeting with federal partners, the local jurisdiction, and the state to discuss any issues and come to a resolution, which may include adjusting the jurisdiction’s activation date or removing the jurisdiction from the deployment plan.
“I did all that,” Hennessy countered. “I did not even get the courtesy of a written response.”
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