ICE Confirms S-Comm is a Voluntary Program

Written by FCJ Editor. Posted in News

Published on September 01, 2010 with 7 Comments

San Francisco County Sheriff Michael Hennessey. Photo by Luke Thomas.

From Asian Law Caucus

September 2, 2010

A broad coalition of civil rights groups today applaud Sheriff Michael Hennessey for sending another letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the California Department of Justice to request that San Francisco be allowed to out of a dangerous finger printing program known as S-Comm (i.e., Secure Communities).

S-Comm is a program that automatically shares with ICE any fingerprints taken by local law enforcement right after any individuals are arrested, no matter how minimal the charge or whether the individual is eventually found to be innocent of alleged charges, thereby resulting in increased deportations and the tearing apart of families. In the past six months, ICE has tripled the number of jurisdictions operating S-Comm, and it is now in 494 jurisdictions in 27 states.[1]

Sheriff Hennessey sent the letter requesting to opt out of S-Comm on August 31st in response to a document issued by ICE that confirms that participation in S-Comm is voluntary, and not mandatory. The ICE document, entitled, “Setting the Record Straight” states in relevant part:

“If a jurisdiction does not wish to activate on its scheduled date in the Secure Communities deployment plan, it must formally notify its state identification bureau and ICE in writing (email, letter or facsimile). Upon receipt of that information, ICE will request a meeting with federal partners, the jurisdiction, and the state to discuss any issues and come to a resolution, which may include adjusting the jurisdiction’s activation date in or removing the jurisdiction from the deployment plan.”

Rachel Ebora, Director of Community Engagement at Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, praised Sheriff Hennessey for his courage and leadership, “This city is fortunate to have Sheriff Hennessey who knows that one of the keys to successful law enforcement is building trust with all community members, including immigrant residents.”

Maria Carolina Morales, Intervention Director at Community United Against Violence, also expressed strong support for the Sheriff’s request to opt out. “SF has done everything required of us to opt out. Sheriff Hennessey and the Board of Supervisors have voiced our concerns loud and clear. It’s now ICE’s turn to follow through on their word and allow SF to do what has been within our right all along – opt out. Only then will we be able to focus our local resources back on local law enforcement and untangle ourselves from being drafted into conducting federal immigration enforcement.”

In a recent statement from ICE to the press, ICE spokesperson Virginia Kice, states , “Once ICE receives the correspondence from the San Francisco County Sheriff, we will review the request and convene a meeting with the other agencies involved, including the California Department of Justice, to discuss the Sheriff’s specific issues and concerns. Based upon those discussions, ICE and its partners will examine the options and seek a feasible resolution, which may include changing the jurisdiction’s activation status.”

Background on S-Comm in SF: Although Sheriff Hennessey made it clear prior to the implementation of S-Comm in San Francisco on June 8th that the city wants to opt out of this voluntary program, ICE initially rejected his request. Attorney General Jerry Brown added to the confusion by refusing to allow SF to opt out despite a clear statement in the cover letter to the MOU agreement that he signed with ICE which allows counties to opt out. However, Brown’s Office in subsequent meetings with civil rights groups revised his position and stated that he would not stand in the way if counties were able to find an opt out path with ICE.

Numerous localities throughout the country have joined San Francisco in voicing strong concerns about the lack of transparency and the harm to community policing posed by S-Comm. A coalition of national civil rights organizations recently released documents obtained from filing a FOIA suit against ICE that showed that a significant percentage of those deported under the program were “non-criminals.”[2] According to an August 10th report analyzing data from ICE, about 26 percent of all those deported nationwide under S-Comm are non-criminals, with the rate as high as 82 percent in some jurisdictions. The New York Times also has issued an editorial calling the program a “bait and switch” for its lack of transparency and the fact that the vast majority of those deported under S-Comm were non-criminals or charged with low-level crimes. In response, ICE has recently changed their tune and confirmed that the program is voluntary.

The San Francisco Immigrant Rights Defense Committee is a growing alliance of immigrant rights advocates, labor groups, faith leaders, youth advocates, and LGBT activists. This includes, but is not limited to, Arab Resource and Organizing Center, Asian Law Caucus, Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, Central American Resource Center, Dolores Street Community Services, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Instituto Familiar de la Raza, Inc., La Raza Centro Legal, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, San Francisco Immigrant Legal & Education Network, and Young Workers United.

The ACLU of Northern California also joins in this press release.

[1] See Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “Activated Jurisdictions,” available at
http://www.ice.gov/doclib/secure_communities/pdf/sc_activated.pdf.

[2] Visit the Center for Constitutional Rights’ Secure Communities FOIA case page for the text of the April 27th FOIA Complaint and all records obtained through the FOIA litigation.  Other relevant S-Comm news and information is available at www.uncoverthetruth.org.