Resisting S-Comm Through ICE Detainers

In spite of the fact that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency is supposed to be targeting immigrants who present public safety challenges and 400,000 DREAMers have been granted deferred action and employment permission, ICE continues to implement its "Secure Communities" program (S-Comm) across the nation without the consent of the states. As a result, many undocumented immigrants -- including domestic violence victims -- who pose no public safety threat continue to be deported. To combat these ICE actions, local jurisdictions across the country are attempting to resist S-Comm by resisting ICE efforts to issue holds or detainers on individuals who have been arrested or fingerprinted.

As part of normal enforcement practices, state law enforcement agencies who fingerprint individuals submit those fingerprints to a state identification bureau. The prints are then routed to the FBI to ascertain whether there are any outstanding warrants for the individual. But under S-Comm, the fingerprints are automatically sent by the FBI to ICE's immigration database to initiate an immigration status background check; if there is a "hit" or there is a question as to someone's legal status, FBI sends a message to various departments within ICE, and the law enforcement agency is also informed. ICE then determines whether to ask the local police to hold the person for pick up by ICE.

ICE has taken the position that the sharing of fingerprints for immigration enforcement purposes is mandatory whether or not a state consents. States such as Illinois, New York, and Massachusetts have objected to this process, but ICE has ignored the states' requests to opt out of this process.

All too often, victims of crimes, minor offenders, and even crime witnesses have been swept up by S-Comm. Reports that domestic violence victims have been rounded up because of S-Comm are common. More than one-third of individuals arrested under S-Comm have a U.S. citizen spouse or child; Latinos comprise 93 percent of individuals arrested through S-Comm, even though they are only about 75 percent of the undocumented population.

Local policymakers and law enforcement officials who recognize the unnecessary harshness of S-Comm have made their opposition known by refusing to honor ICE holds or detainers. Cook County, Santa Clara County, the District of Columbia, and Connecticut have ceased their compliance with ICE detainers. Last month, John Avalos, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, introduced the Due Process for All Ordinance, similar legislation that will disentangle San Francisco's law enforcement from federal immigration enforcement.

S-Comm's operation contradicts two of our most fundamental values -- due process and equal protection. Immigration hold requests issued through the program require no proof, are not reviewed by a judge and are, therefore, often mistakenly issued. Because the request is triggered at the point of arrest, anyone who has contact with local law enforcement, however minor, faces the risk of being torn from his or her community without a criminal charge, a conviction or a day in court. Immigrants, and those suspected of being immigrants, are the most vulnerable to being swept up by S-Comm's expansive operation.

This resistance to S-Comm is absolutely necessary to law enforcement officials who understand that in order to do their jobs, they must have the trust of the entire community -- including those who are immigrants. For many, the threat of deportation alone can be paralyzing. Domestic violence survivors and witnesses to crime may understandably stay silent because a single phone call could put them in S-Comm's grasp. When residents are too scared to contact the police, it becomes harder for law enforcement to do their jobs and keep the community safe. This happens when immigrants believe that local police are simply an arm of the federal immigration enforcement mechanism; they do not report crimes--even as victims or witnesses. That jeopardizes public safety for everyone.

San Francisco's pending legislation is an important step for yet another jurisdiction in taking a stand against S-Comm.