California now a Secure Communities state

All police departments in the state with the highest population of illegal immigrants are now equipped to work with federal immigration authorities to determine the legal status of all suspects arrested under a federal program originally implemented in May 2009.  Reported last week by several local outlets, all of California is now officially under the Secure Communities federal immigration enforcement program.  This will allow local law enforcement to verify the immigration status of everyone arrested and enable Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to deport those illegal immigrants if necessary.

Before the Secure Communities program, law enforcement agencies were able to check suspects against an FBI database under the Department of Justice with the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). Now, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security will be able to collaborate through information-sharing.  On February 23, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) implemented the information-sharing capability in the six remaining California counties that were previously without the program: Alpine, Del Norte, Lassen, Sierra, Siskiyou, and Trinity counties, respectively. 

As a result, upon booking both legal and illegal immigrant suspects into a city police department’s custody, biometrics are used in determining immigration status and whether those particular suspects are subject to deportation, which would be under the jurisdiction of ICE. The program aims at being yet another asset in equipping law enforcement to cooperate with the federal government. 

For as much slack that conservatives gave President Obama for going after Jan Brewer and Arizona, which might have been an overzealous attempt on the administration’s part, some amount of credit should be given to the Department of Homeland Security for checking the legal status of all who are arrested in local municipalities. Regarding these current immigration measures, they also augment the President’s workplace enforcement measures that his cabinet recently implemented.

With the assertion that the mandatory Secure Communities program would erode the relationship between local law enforcement and immigrant communities, California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who represents the 31st Assembly District up in Northern California, has recently introduced a bill that would cancel California’s participation in the program unless it provided a way for cities to opt out of it. To be clear, while the program might correlate with higher deportations under the Obama administration, it doesn’t appear to unfairly target illegal immigrants. It requires, rather, that all suspects arrested by local authorities be checked against the databases of both ICE and the FBI.

It demonstrates that no criminal, whether legal or illegal, will be exempt from current laws seeking to verify vital information. Additionally, ICE will only deport only those allowed by their current resources and based on the gravity of the crime. Besides, standard practice under the Obama administration has been to only deport those with criminal records as well as those who have gained illegal employment in American businesses through falsified information like fake social security numbers. 

According to the San Jose Mercury News, 65,760 illegal immigrants have been arrested statewide since 2009. Of that number, approximately half (32,645) have been deported by ICE. Federal authorities hope to have the program in effect nationwide by 2013.