Last Thursday federal officials released a memo called "Setting the Record Straight" that outlines for the first time how local police can opt-out of sharing arrest data with immigration authorities via enrollment in the "Secure Communities" program. But so far, the process exists only on paper.The memo from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) states:
All of these steps sounded familiar to San Francisco County Sheriff Michael Hennessey, except the resolution.
"I did all of that," he said after reading the explanation.
When California signed a statewide agreement with ICE, Hennessey sent a letter to ICE on June 3 asking for his jurisdiction to opt-out of the program which allows agents to access arrest data from local jails.
Deputy Director for Secure Communities, Marc Rapp, responded to Hennessey with a phone call, the upshot of which was that there was no way his request could be granted. Shortly afterward, Secure Communities went into effect over the objection of the sheriff and his Board of Supervisors.
"I followed procedure, but they did not follow procedure," said Hennessey.
Now the sheriff has sent another letter, this time asking California Attorney General, Jerry Brown, to clarify whether San Fransisco can stop sending its misdemeanor arrest data to ICE.
Confusion over how to opt-out of Secure Communities may explain how ICE has enrolled 574 jurisdictions in 30 states since it began two years ago. While the new memo suggests Secure Communities is voluntary, it definitely seemed mandatory when Orange County, North Carolina tried to opt-out in January 2009.
"My first reaction to the memo was that this is a complete contradiction to everything they said before," said Marty Rosenbtlath, staff attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
Rosenblath is a member of Orange County's Human Rights commission, which was asked to investigate Secure Communities.
"We were told point blank by ICE that the only way for Orange County to opt-out was to stop fingerprinting people," he said.
As a result, the county passed a resolution with the following request:
Now Rosenbluth says he plans to revisit the opt-out issue with the commission and the sheriff.
"At our next meeting we're going to say, 'Excuse us, we have this new information," said Rosenbluth. "Would you mind please considering it?"
In counties already enrolled in Secure Communities, the push back is coming from both activists and local officials. Members of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia plan to ask the mayor to reconsider opting out. County Supervisors in Santa Clara, California may pass a resolution opposing the program.
Civil rights groups who filed an open records request with ICE in part to clarify the opt-out process say the agency's next step should be to include similar instructions in agreements with states yet to be enrolled.
"We demand a clear protocol be included in every single Secure Communities agreement," said Sarahi Uribe with the National Day Labor Organizing Network and lead organizer of the "Uncover The Truth Behind ICE and Police Collaborations" campaign.
Governors in Colorado and Washington could decide as soon as this week whether they will sign an agreement to enroll their states in Secure Communities. If they choose to join, local law enforcement agencies in those states could unleash a wave of opt-out requests that will put ICE's new explanation to the test.
The agency is already on the hot seat back in San Fransisco. ICE spokesman, Richard Rocha, told the Washington Independent he will discuss Sheriff Hennessey's new request to opt-out and seek a resolution that may "change the jurisdiction's activation status."
This post originally appeared on DeportationNation.org, a news website dedicated to critical coverage of how Secure Communities has turned local police into the front lines of a federal immigration crackdown.