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California Mulls Opt-Out of ICE Program

United Press International

May 31, 2011

California lawmakers are mulling opting out of a federal immigration enforcement program critics say hurts public safety and undercuts local law enforcement.

Under the Secure Communities program, begun in 2008, fingerprints of people booked into local jails and cross-checked with the FBI’s criminal database are sent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for screening. Officials said the system is meant to identify and deport illegal immigrants convicted of serious crimes, but California Democrats say it has a chilling effect on immigrant crime victims and witnesses, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.

Since the program began through March, 55 percent of people flagged for deportation nationwide committed misdemeanors and infractions or were arrested but not convicted of crimes, ICE data indicated. About 30 percent of those flagged for deportation had been convicted of serious crimes.

An ICE spokeswoman said the program found 78,000 “deportable aliens” in California and the agency is developing a policy to protect crime victims and witnesses.

The bill would allow counties to opt out of the program and ensure participants enact protective measures for domestic violence victims and juveniles, and would require counties opting out to develop safeguards against racial profiling and share fingerprints of only convicted felons, the Times said.

During debate in the California Assembly last week, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a Democrat, called Secure Communities a “farce.”

Republicans argued the bill would undermine federal law, saying allowing individual counties to opt out would allow criminals to move across the state.

“People will go where they will not get caught,” said Republican Assemblyman Stephen Knight.

The Assembly moved the bill to the Senate on a 47-to-26, party-line vote. Gov. Jerry Brown declined to comment on the legislation, but the newspaper noted he supported Secure Communities when he was state attorney general.

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