Despite recent reports that the federal administrator in charge
of a controversial program to crackdown on immigration violations
denied there is a procedure for local governments to opt out of the
program, Santa Clara County will continue to respond as though it
has a choice.
Despite recent reports that the federal administrator in charge of a controversial program to crackdown on immigration violations denied there is a procedure for local governments to opt out of the program, Santa Clara County will continue to respond as though it has a choice.
Previous statements from the same department that runs Secure Communities assured the county that it can opt out of the program, and that’s the word the county will accept, according to the county counsel’s office.
Earlier this year, the county was automatically enrolled in the Secure Communities initiative of the U.S. department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement – a program which requires local jails to share inmate fingerprint data with ICE, which uses the information to enforce immigration laws.
The county was enrolled in the program in May 2009, but county officials did not know about Secure Communities until October 2009.
In recent weeks the Santa Clara County board of supervisors unanimously voted to begin an “opt-out” process to be exempt from the ICE enforcement agenda, based on correspondence from federal officials that assured them the program is voluntary and that counties can choose not to participate.
Participating in the program would contradict the county’s policy not to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law, county officials said. Doing so would erode trust among residents who need law enforcement assistance, jeopardizing their safety as a result, according to county officials.
However, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in an ICE press conference earlier this month that the federal government does not think that counties should be able to opt out of ICE’s Secure Communities program.
The county counsel’s office remains bewildered by conflicting statements about the opt-out process coming from the federal office. Deputy county counsel Anjali Bhargava noted the county has received a letter from ICE Secure Communities director David Venturella assuring county officials they can opt out, and that’s the official word as far as the county is concerned.
“It’s disappointing and frustrating to see these mixed messages in the news, and statements that are inconsistent with the information we received in writing,” Bhargava said. “(Napolitano’s statement) still doesn’t change our decision to go forward with what the board asked us to do.”
The state Department of Justice also participates in Secure Communities to facilitate the program between counties and the federal Department of Homeland Security. Fingerprints are sent to state police, then to federal officials who keep an electronic database of fingerprints belonging to wanted subjects.
There are about 200,000 undocumented immigrants living in Santa Clara County, according to county officials. However, law enforcement authorities do not have the resources, funding or expertise to seek alleged immigration offenders. And the county does not require fingerprinting to receive any public services other than at the county jail.