Last week was a rough one for Secure Communities, a controversial federal deportation program that critics charge is counterproductive and unconstitutional. The most significant developments came from California, where the program has essentially lost support at the city and state levels.
The S-Comm program is run by the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which uses fingerprints taken when someone is arrested to automatically check the person's immigration status. If immigration officials have any concerns, they ask local law enforcement to hold that person for an additional 48 hours to give an immigration agent time to pick up the arrestee.
However, critics of the program charge that it casts too broad a net, scooping up non-criminals, lawful immigrants, even victims of crime.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris attempted to clear up longstanding confusion about the program last Tuesday when she issued a directive informing local law enforcement that ICE immigration holds – known as detainers – are indeed voluntary and not mandatory.
Harris said she had received dozens of inquiries from law enforcement officials about what their obligations were regarding the federal immigration hold requests.
Law enforcement had previously been split on the issue.
In Los Angeles, for example, Police Chief Charlie Beck said publicly that he would no longer comply with immigration holds for ICE that were not for serious or violent crimes.
However, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has been adamantly against any efforts to undermine the program's reach.
Harris cited the 10th Amendment and legal precedent to show that federal government cannot make states fulfill federal duties.
"Under principles of federalism, neither Congress nor the federal executive branch can require state officials to carry out federal programs at their own expense," said the information bulletin.
ICE records show that more than 82,500 immigrants were removed from California through S-Comm, and about 26,000 of them were for serious or violent crimes.
Harris' rationale for the announcement seemed to be driven more by the problems associated with S-Comm than by what she says are its legal limits.
"When I look at the numbers, [they] aren't holding true to what was the stated intent, which was to prioritize those who are convicted of serious crimes," Harris said.
In a review of S-Comm information from March to June, Harris found that 28 percent of the cases involved non-criminals. She went on to call the program "flawed."
"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," Harris said.