Feds to county: You can’t get out

Permit now required to host events on county roads

Federal officials notified Santa Clara County that the local
jurisdiction will not be able to opt out of an immigration
enforcement program that has resulted in 500 local arrests since
May.
Federal officials notified Santa Clara County that the local jurisdiction will not be able to opt out of an immigration enforcement program that has resulted in 500 local arrests since May.

And despite previous assurances from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement that local jurisdictions may pursue an option to exempt themselves from the program known as Secure Communities, the federal office now denies that such a process was ever available, according to county staff.

Secure Communities uses arrestee fingerprint data collected from local agencies, and shares that information with ICE in order to enforce federal immigration laws. On Sept. 28 the Santa Clara County board of supervisors voted unanimously to seek to remove the county from the program, because it is at odds with the county’s policy not to use local resources to enforce federal immigration violations.

County staff now allege that ICE has unexpectedly reversed itself with Tuesday’s announcement that counties can’t avoid the net cast by Secure Communities. The program was first turned on in May 2010, without approval from the supervisors.

After the county raised concerns about the program, senior ICE official David Venturella, who directs Secure Communities, sent a letter to county counsel Miguel Márquez stating that ICE would meet with counties to discuss removing them from the program, according to county staff.

“Our board has serious concerns about this program. Contrary to how ICE has described the program, it does not target only violent, criminal aliens. Instead, people with no criminal records are being apprehended and deported for minor offenses like traffic violations,” said Supervisor George Shirakawa, chair of the board’s public safety and justice committee. “This program makes innocent people afraid of law enforcement. Our county does not want to be at the forefront of new immigration enforcement programs that will make us lose our residents’ trust.”

Venturella met with County Counsel Márquez Tuesday. When Márquez informed Venturella that the County would like to be removed from Secure Communities, Márquez said Venturella went back on his word that counties would be allowed to opt out of the program.

“ICE now insists that there was never any avenue for the county to opt out,” Márquez said. “This is clearly inconsistent with our written communication with ICE, as well as what ICE has told the public and congressional representatives about this program.”

The county ended Tuesday’s meeting with the federal official when “ICE repeatedly denied the obvious discrepancy between their past and present statements, and made clear that they had not come to offer the county any meaningful options,” Márquez said. “It is clear that ICE is not interested in hearing about the program’s impact on communities or engaging with localities in good faith.”

Supervisor Don Gage, who represents South County’s District 1 on the board, said he predicted the federal government would not let the county opt out, and the county is left with no options to exclude itself from Secure Communities.

“They want us to do their work for them, so we have to pay for it,” Gage said.

Since May, ICE has already used Secure Communities to arrest 500 people in Santa Clara County – a quarter of whom had no previous criminal record. The program has also been used to remove 241 people in Santa Clara County out of the country, and 81 of those had no criminal records, according to county staff.

County officials think about 200,000 undocumented immigrants live in Santa Clara County. Staff have noted in recent weeks that local law enforcement and corrections staff do not have the resources or expertise to identify, locate and arrest undocumented immigrants or any other immigration offenders.

Secure Communities does not attempt to entrap people who seek other county services such as medical care or social services, nor those who apply for public jobs that require background checks, county staff have said.

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