S.F. Sheriff Michael Hennessey wants to opt out of the Secure Communities program that has led to deportations.
As the sheriff of San Francisco for more than 30 years, I know that maintaining public safety requires earning community trust. We rely heavily on the trust and cooperation of all community members – including immigrants – to come forward and report crimes, either as victims or as witnesses. Otherwise, crimes go unreported – and this affects everyone, citizens and noncitizens alike. It also leads to “street justice,” in which residents who are too afraid to go to the police decide to take justice into their own hands, often with deadly result.
San Francisco has always been a city of immigrants. We are proud of our diversity. We value the contributions of immigrants to our community. Law enforcement and other civic leaders work hard to serve all of our residents in an effort to promote the health and safety of our neighborhoods. Unfortunately, Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s controversial Secure Communities program violates this hard-earned trust with immigrant residents. Under this program, the fingerprints of everyone booked into a county jail are conveyed electronically to ICE, which checks them against its own database to see if deportation should be considered. This applies to even a minor matter, such as having no driver’s license in one’s possession in a traffic stop.
This is not an exaggeration or a hypothetical: It happened here in San Francisco just a few months ago to a man with no criminal record whatsoever who was placed in federal detention and since has been deported.
The use of fingerprints to initiate immigration scrutiny is of particular concern to victims of domestic violence. In a recent case in San Francisco, a woman called 911 to report domestic violence, but the police arrested both her and her partner. Although no charges were ever filed against the woman, she is now fighting deportation. There should be no penalty for a victim of a crime to call the police.
All it takes is a fingerprint.
It does not matter if the person is innocent because the fingerprints are transmitted to ICE at arrest, prior to criminal court proceedings. ICE’s own data show that 29 percent of people deported because of Secure Communities are classified as non-criminals. The result is often that a child is taken from a parent, or an individual raised since childhood in the United States is deported to the country where he was born but where he has no family and doesn’t even speak the language.
This fear of the arbitrary use of immigration laws is only reinforced when you have a high-ranking ICE official telling law enforcement, “If you don’t have enough evidence to charge someone criminally but you think he’s illegal, we can make him disappear.” This is a quote from James Pendergraph, the former executive director of the ICE Office of State and Local Coordination, who was speaking in 2008 to the Police Foundation’s national conference on immigration issues.
My main criticism of Secure Communities is that it casts too wide a net and scoops up the fingerprints of everyone not born in the United States whether or not they pose a criminal risk. My department has consistently reported felons to ICE for more than a decade, and ICE typically picks up close to 1,000 people from the San Francisco County Jail each year. But I don’t think people should be deported for a traffic ticket or for operating a tamale cart in the Mission.
For these reasons, I have repeatedly asked ICE to allow the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department to opt out of Secure Communities. ICE has not been forthright or truthful in its responses. First, ICE officials said a local community could “opt out” and even prescribed a procedure. When it became clear that San Francisco, Santa Clara and other jurisdictions were interested in opting out, the ICE officials then reversed course and declared that no one could opt out. ICE also refuses to inform local authorities if the agency has released back into the community those previously arrested.
It is vitally important for San Francisco law enforcement to create a bond of trust with all the city’s residents. After all, a majority of San Franciscans are of either Asian or Hispanic descent. This is why I testified in support of the TRUST Act (AB1081, authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco) in Sacramento last week. This legislation would allow local jurisdictions to choose to not participate in Secure Communities by modifying California’s Secure Communities agreement with ICE. Local jurisdictions cannot and should not be lied to and coerced into doing the work of the federal government. Let the feds enforce national immigration laws and leave local law enforcement out of it.
This article appeared on page F – 7 of the San Francisco Chronicle