LOS ANGELES (AP) — California lawmakers are the latest to weigh joining efforts in other states to gain control over a controversial national program that automatically checks the immigration status of arrestees.

The Golden State accounts for more than a third of the deportations under the Immigration and Customs Enforcement program, and some local officials are saying they were misled by the federal government about the program’s extent.

Illinois lawmakers are also considering a measure to let communities retreat from the program. Washington state has deferred to local governments on whether they want to join the so-called “Secure Communities” program, which links up the FBI’s criminal database and the Department of Homeland Security’s records so that every time someone is arrested their immigration status is automatically, electronically checked.

But their efforts could be thwarted as federal officials argue that states have no control over what information is shared among federal agencies.

The tug-of-war over the ICE program highlights the tension between states and the federal government in the absence of a legislative fix on immigration. In the last four years, states have passed a flurry of bills and resolutions on issues ranging from employer verification to access to driver’s licenses, most notably Arizona’s tough local immigration enforcement law.

Immigrant advocates have lambasted ICE’s fingerprint sharing program for sweeping up crime victims and witnesses who are arrested during an investigation in addition to those accused of committing a crime. About 29 percent of the 102,000 immigrants deported under the program since it began in 2008 have no criminal conviction, according to federal government statistics.

On Tuesday, the California Assembly’s public safety committee voted to advance the bill that would only let local communities participate in the program if they choose to do so through resolution.

The measure is being met with applause from immigrant advocates, and from some in law enforcement, including San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey, who has long pushed to withdraw from a program he fears will make immigrants afraid to report crime and erode their trust in law enforcement.

“It clearly is not the worst of the worst (being caught) and we’re simply using it as a de facto immigration policy,” said Quintin Mecke, a spokesman for Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, the bill’s sponsor.

However, the bill faces criticism from the California State Sheriffs’ Association, which says the electronic checks overseen by Immigration and Customs Enforcement are cost effective and eliminating them would place a burden on their agencies.

Republican Assemblyman Curt Hagman, who opposes the bill, also said the country can’t have a state-by-state immigration policy and that California has to play by the federal government’s rules on a federal issue.

“They shouldn’t be able to pick and choose what laws are valid and what ones aren’t,” Hagman said, adding that the bill’s extensive reporting requirements for communities that want to remain in Secure Communities make it too onerous to do so.

The debate over the ICE program is playing out across the country as federal authorities aim to achieve nationwide coverage in 2013. It currently is in effect in more than 1,200 jurisdictions in 42 states. The controversy heightened after The Associated Press reported in February that the program initially billed as voluntary by federal officials is now mandatory and that cities must turn over the fingerprint data to ICE.

Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren has said she believes some of the statements made by Homeland Security and ICE officials about the program were intentionally false and misleading and has asked the department’s inspector general to investigate.

Fingerprints of criminal suspects collected by local law enforcement officers have always been sent to the FBI to check against its criminal histories and fingerprint database. Under the ICE program, the fingerprints also are run through the Department of Homeland Security’s database, and federal authorities can determine the suspect’s immigration status and begin deportation proceedings if necessary.

Immigration officials say the goal is to ensure illegal immigrants who commit crimes are flagged and deported. Nationwide, about 26 percent of those deported under program have been convicted of major drug offenses or violent crimes.

Some communities have welcomed the program as a cost savings measure and a way to ensure illegal immigrants who commit crimes are not released back into their neighborhoods. In Colorado, for example, lawmakers were considering a measure to withhold funding from localities that refused to participate, but it failed.

But officials in jurisdictions including Providence, R.I., Chicago and San Francisco have challenged the program, which they say undermines trust that it has taken local law enforcement years to build in immigrant communities.

Between October 2008 and March 2011, more than 7 million people who have been arrested have had their fingerprints run through the ICE program. Roughly 197,000 were identified as suspected illegal immigrants, and nearly 40 percent of those were in California, according to statistics provided by ICE.

Even if legislation were to pass, it is not clear a California law would take precedence over the program.

ICE officials declined to comment on the pending legislation but said the program is not voluntary.

Rather, it is ultimately about sharing information between federal agencies and “as a result, state and local jurisdictions cannot prohibit the information sharing between the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security upon which the Secure Communities program rests,” ICE director John Morton wrote in a letter to Lofgren dated Thursday.

Immigrant advocates, however, believe states do have a say, noting that federal immigration officials have crisscrossed the country to sign agreements with different states.

In California, a memorandum of agreement was signed with ICE in 2009.

“That’s the crux of this debate: can you force local law enforcement to conduct civil immigration enforcement? I think the answer is no,” said Angela Chan, staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus, adding that she does not believe federal immigration officials legally have the right to access fingerprint data taken by local agencies.

The California bill now heads to the appropriation committee for a price tag. Proponents don’t expect there to be major costs and hope to see the measure debated by the Assembly in June.

Under the measure, local governments that want to continue with the ICE program would need to maintain data on arrests and the number of immigrants referred to federal authorities. The program could only be applied to immigrants convicted of crimes, not those who are merely arrested.

Communities that want to opt out, like San Francisco, would be free of the program entirely, should the law pass and then be sustainable.

“We were told initially by ICE we could opt out, then … it has gone back and forth like a ping pong ball,” Hennessey said during the Assembly committee hearing in Sacramento. “I think that ICE has not been particularly cooperative with us in San Francisco in law enforcement, and it has been a very frustrating experience.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (20)
  1. Mufon says:

    Sure, let’s discard the program. Illegal aliens’ kids are citizens, and will likely vote Democrat, since that’s who helps their parents stay in the country. Of course, it will keep their parents as a slave-labor class of cheap workers, but that’s okay for both parties. So let’s not impound unlicensed illegal aliens’ cars, don’t deport illegal alien criminals, and oh yes, let’s not forget the big middle finger to those immigrants trying to do it right, and attempting to gain legitimate citizenship.

    1. Saber 1 says:

      This is the epic center for ILLEGAL ALIENS. CA., AZ and TX are sitting ducks to be taken over bt a drained state system and diseases we eradicated years ago. They have no standards of hygiene, they just live several to a house and no taxes paid. ILLEGAL ALIENS HAVE NO RIGHTS IN THE USA.

      1. ICE is melting says:

        i agree on SABER 1. HAVE YOU HAD TO WORK WITH BOTH LEGAL & ILLEGAL LATINOS??? at work i do my very best to HOLD IT until i get off work from useing the rest room. we put a 20 gallon trashcan in there so they would throw the paper in there instead of on the floor. “with an open top” WELL GUESS WHAT?? THEY CONTINUE TO THROW PAPER ON THE FLOOR. SO ALL YOU SEE IN THERE IS PEICES OF WHITE TOILET PAPER AND A GLOB OF BROWN SPOTS STUCK TO IT.

      2. Rick says:

        I agree with what Ice said. I was in a restaurant a few days back and had to use the restroom. As I washed my hands a Hispanic came out of one of the stalls with 2 hands full of USED/BROWN toilet paper, threw it in the trash directly next to me and left the restroom. Did he wash his hands? NO!! He then used said hands to eat his sandwich and refill his soda. So that is how feces gets on the soda dispensers!
        Memo to Hispanics like yourself:
        Our plumbing system here in the USA works (for the most part). Try to teach yourself something new. Flush a toilet, wash your hands. It should not be a USA thing, it should be a UNIVERSAL THING.

    2. Saber 1 says:

      Here are your rights: You have the right to be silent, anything you say can and will used against in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney, if you can’t afford one, one will be provided at no cost. Since your ILLEGAL in MY COUNTRY, PLEASE LEAVE BEFORE YOU COMPLETELY DESTROY IT.

  2. HooDatIS? says:


  3. chemtrail monster says:

    the extra-terrestrials are not illegal aliens and nether are people on this planet. the republican shlt-bags cause seperation,hate,war, ect.

  4. mitzi says:

    illegal aliens are just that illegal. They are criminally trespassing in our country. They steal our water every time they flush a toilet, steal from our clinics and hospitals, steal our jobs, steal an education by attending our public schools, commit tax evasion. I say we should execute all of them.

  5. c-gas says:

    @ MItzi….Well said

  6. ZX says:

    Everyone should be checked equally
    Legal or Illegal
    It only takes one Al-Queda to ruin your day

    1. Ron says:

      Unfortunately, as long as the Democrats and Unions CONTROL/RUN California, they will only DESTROY our protections(immigration & criminal checks). WE MUST BUST THE UNIONS & VOTE OUT the DEMOCRATS !!!

      IF YOU HAVE A CHOICE, shop at only NON-UNION stores. Research online to find out which ones are non-union & patronize them. This is one way that we can have an effect on unions.

      Here are a few:

      Target & Walmart(many now have food items at better prices than the supermarkets). Trader Joes, Sprouts, Fresh & Easy and Whole Foods.
      I recently switched to Target & you can get 5% off all items w/their Red Card. It doesn’t require a credit check.

      TRY SWITCHING NOW. DON’T wait. The sooner we start, the sooner we can have an effect on the UNIONS. Then the non-union stores will get more business and hire more non-union workers.

      All of you that have complained about the UNIONS, here is your chance to make a difference. Reply to my comment, if you will make the change.

  7. Cesar says:

    “The measure is being met with applause from immigrant advocates, and from some in law enforcement, including San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey, who has long pushed to withdraw from a program he fears will make immigrants afraid to report crime and erode their trust in law enforcement.” Hey idiot, they get fingerprinted when the arrested not for being on the street or reporting a crime. Isn’t the issue running Federal checks on people that get arrested. “our” immigrant community will be “afraid to report crimes”, they did not report before, what’s going to change.

  8. Rick says:

    Just another ILLEGAL ASSKISSING move by elected officials that need to be recalled from office.

  9. Fred says:

    Only 29% have no criminal conviction? That means 71% do. That means no criminal conviction besides being the country illegally. Seems like they’re all law breakers to me.

  10. Aaron says:

    Humm notice how every comment Is race realated and how nobody removes them?. And it’s funny too because in 20 years 80 % of the people in Cali are gunna be hispanic etc.. So get over it and except change illegal or legal cuzz someones gotta show trailer park trash peices of **** like you who runs **** round here.

    1. Ron says:

      If you want someone like this, in control of our country, then do nothing. OTHERWISE, only shop at NON-UNION stores. Only use non-union labor. Only patronize non-union businesses.

      YOU CAN reverse the trend of illiterate idiots like Aaron, from gaining control of our state and achieving what HE says will happen.

  11. Rick says:

    You are an idiot! So your “trailer perk trash” comment is not racist? The moderators on this site have balls the size of peas. Any comment regarding Illegals has an automatic red flag flying over it. While it seems hispanics can bag on whites, blacks etc.. and their posts are left alone. Sometimes I think this site is ran by La Opinion.

  12. Trisha says:

    @aaron -Thats a very broad assumption don’t ya think!? And for the record- not every American Loving LEGAL citizen is “white trash!”

    We just need to herd all the illegals onto a barge and ship them out to sea.

  13. Fred says:

    Illegals from all countries need to go, not all are from Mexico. There are plenty from Europe, Canada and Africa. Everyone should have to show proof that they are legal to work here. Take the race out it.

    1. Ron says:

      Fred, I guess you haven’t been reading many of the articles. The DOMINANT race of ILLEGALS is Hispanic, by a HUGE margin.

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