“The Sheriff supports Secure Communities, but he also knows that things can get better,” said Steve Whitmore, spokesman for Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.
Secure Communities is a controversial program through the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement designed to improve public safety by identifying criminal aliens and removing them from the United States.
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Despite what many would consider a public benefit, some California legislators are electing to have the state drop out of the program.
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano from the 13th District in San Francisco sponsored The Trust Act (AB 1081) which passed the California Assembly by a 43 to 22 vote last Thursday. The bill seeks to repair what he sees as the damaging impact of the Secure Communities or “S-Comm” program.
"S-Comm is a farce. ICE misled local jurisdictions from the beginning and blurred the lines between law enforcement and immigration, striking unnecessary fear into innocent people's lives. The Trust Act is a practical solution that will re-build trust with our immigrant communities and by doing so will restore some balance to this dysfunctional and unjust program," said Ammiano.
Sheriff Lee Baca isn’t ready to abandon Secure Communities just yet.
“Before the state decides not to do something, if there needs to be some improvements, let’s make them,” said Whitmore.
The Secure Communities signature strategy is to combine the information sharing of ICE and the Department of Justice with local law enforcement. With this cooperation, the fingerprints of everyone arrested and booked are checked against FBI criminal history records and Department of Homeland Security immigration records.
If fingerprints match DHS records, ICE determines if immigration enforcement action is required, considering the immigration status of the alien, the severity of the crime and the alien's criminal history.
Whitmore admits there have been some “pre-adjudication” issues with Secure Communities. He describes pre-adjudication as a situation where somebody is arrested and didn’t commit a crime.
“He believes that civil rights are essential and important for all in this country. He doesn’t want to get in the habit of violating somebody’s civil rights,” said Whitmore.
The program, Baca says, was originally intended for serious criminals.
One of the complaints against Secure Communities is that immigrants fearing arrest and deportation would stop reporting crimes to law enforcement.
"The Trust Act is a small and sensible measure to protect Californians from the reckless endangerment of racial profiling and the chilling effect on community-police relations that can occur under the discredited Secure Communities program," said B. Loewe, spokesperson for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
Baca doesn’t think Secure Communities hinders immigrants from reporting crimes.
“The Sheriff doesn’t believe that to be true, especially when the communities get safer. He believes that they will deal with the Deputy Sheriffs more extensively as their communities improve,” said Whitmore.
Last week, after a request by San Jose Congresswoman Lofgren and New Jersey Senator Menendez, the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General announced that it will investigate the agency’s Secure Communities program regarding whether or not states and localities could opt-out of the program and if the program succeeds in meeting its goal of targeting serious criminals.
The California bill now heads to the Senate for approval.