LATINO VOICES
12/05/2012 06:46 pm ET

Secure Communities Is Optional In California, Attorney General Kamala Harris Says

Secure Communities is optional in California, according to the state’s Attorney General Kamala Harris.

Harris told local law enforcement Tuesday they didn’t have to comply with the controversial fingerprint-sharing program used to rope undocumented immigrants into deportation proceedings, arguing that in practice Secure Communities targeted non-criminals and made immigrant communities distrustful of the police, according to the Los Angeles Times.

"Secure Communities has not held up to what it aspired to be," Harris said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I want that rape victim to be absolutely secure that if she waves down an officer in a car that she will be protected … and not fear that she's waving down an immigration officer.”

The directive prompted Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca to say Wednesday that he will no longer hold low-level criminal suspects for federal authorities.

Baca had previously been one of the program’s most vocal supporters, and a prominent opponent of the Trust Act. The bill, which Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed in October, would have limited California's participation in Secure Communities by requiring the state to disregard federal requests to detain immigrants in many cases. San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano introduced a revised version of the Trust Act on Monday.

“The last thing we want is victims to be frightened to come forward,” Baca spokesman Steve Whitmore told the Los Angeles Times.

The new position puts California at odds with the Obama administration, which has backed Secure Communities’ expansion, despite protests from immigrant rights advocates. President Barack Obama supports the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform, but has also deported record levels of immigrants -- about 400,000 per year.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa backed Harris’ decision, calling it “an important and courageous step forward” in a press release. “Her decision is a first step towards re-building the broken relationship between law enforcement and our immigrant community,” he added.

The stated goal of Secure Communities is to deport undocumented immigrants who commit serious crimes by obligating local law enforcement to share the fingerprints of those they arrest with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

But of the 31,333 deportation cases taken up by California’s immigration courts in 2011, only 14.81 percent involved a crime beyond entering the country illegally, according to data gathered by California Watch. That number marks a drop from 16.87 percent in 2007, the year before Secure Communities went into effect.

It costs California an estimated $65 million a year to detain undocumented immigrants it wouldn’t hold if not for Secure Communities, according to a report by Justice Strategies released in August.

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