New Document Confirms Secure Communities Program is Voluntary, Rights Groups Say ICE Must Allow Counties Opt Out

September 1, 2010, San Francisco, New York and Washington D.C.—In a teleconference press briefing today, public officials and civil rights organizations underscored that nearly two years after its launch, ICE has finally suggested a procedure for local jurisdictions to request to opt out of the problematic Secure Communities program (S-Comm). In response to mounting public pressure and the release of internal ICE documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed in April by the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, ICE issued a seven-page document defending the politically sensitive program. The document described for the first time what appears to be an opt out process for local jurisdictions.
In today’s briefing, San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey and Santa Clara Supervisor George Shirakawa joined the groups to express concerns about the harm to public safety caused by the program, which enlists locals police into federal immigration enforcement through checking the fingerprints of all individuals at the time of booking and to raise questions about ICE’s newly released, yet somewhat vague procedure for opting out of the program. The groups demand that ICE follow its own policy by allowing local jurisdiction that have made this request, such as San Francisco, to opt out.
San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey said, "Despite ICE's contention that a local jurisdiction may opt out of Secure Communities by submitting a formal request in writing, my experience has shown this not to be true." The Sheriff re-submitted a request to opt out this week citing the new ICE procedure in a letter addressed to the Department of Homeland Security and the California Attorney General that states “that the information provided...suggests there is now a procedure in place to address such requests.”
Santa Clara County Supervisor George Shirakawa added, “The County of Santa Clara has been struggling to understand the so-called ‘voluntary’ roll-out of Secure Communities in our jails. Santa Clara County has a long-standing policy of not entangling immigration enforcement with local policing. We are not in a position to do ICE’s work.” 
Earlier this month the Office of the County Counsel of Santa Clara wrote a letter to the Department of Homeland Security asking for clarification about the opt out process and never received a response.  Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D), Co-chair of the Immigration Sub-committee, also wrote a letter requesting clarification, noting that “there appears to be significant confusion about how local law enforcement agencies may 'opt out' of Secure Communities.”  To download a copy of this letter as well as Sheriff Hennessey’s letter, click here.
“We have known all along that S-Comm is a voluntary program because it is a program, not a federal law, and it interferes with local interests in protecting public safety by destroying any trust immigrant residents have in the police,” said Angela Chan, Staff Attorney at the Asian Law Caucus, a nonprofit civil rights organization in San Francisco that serves low-income Asian American immigrants. “It’s a promising development that ICE has finally come out and acknowledged that the program is voluntary in a written statement.  The next step is for ICE to follow through and allow San Francisco to opt out since both our Sheriff and our Board of Supervisors have clearly stated our city’s request to opt out.”
S-Comm now operates in 574 jurisdictions in 30 states. ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton has declared his intention to deploy S-Comm nationwide by 2013, and has vigorously defended the program in the media as an innocuous information-sharing program that does not require local police to enforce immigration laws. But according to Sarahi Uribe of NDLON and lead organizer of the "Uncover The Truth Behind ICE and Police Collaborations" campaign, “Details have been scarce, and frankly there has been an Orwellian tone to Assistant Secretary Morton’s S-Comm propaganda campaign. Despite clear warning signs from Arizona about the dangerous consequences of the ICE-police mergers, the Assistant Secretary has accelerated its expansion. Local governments, law enforcement and the public demand that ICE immediately amend the S-Comm agreements to outline a clear and functional opt out process and respect the requests of jurisdictions like San Francisco to opt out of the program’s implementation.”
Groups say that particularly problematic is S-Comm’s mechanism that automatically runs fingerprints through immigration databases for all people upon arrest, regardless of whether they are ultimately convicted. Civil rights organizations raised concerns about the potential for police to use low-level criminal stops as a pretext to trigger immigration proceedings. Law enforcement officials have expressed apprehension about the program’s effect on community policing and interference with local criminal investigations.
According to Jazmin Segura at the Services, Immigrant Rights & Education Network, “Secure Communities is a dangerous program that increases the collaboration between local law enforcement and ICE. This collaboration, which makes immigrants reluctant to trust local authorities, can critically undermine the health and well being of all residents--including U.S. citizens. We are pleased ICE has taken the first step in ensuring a clear opt-out process so that counties like Santa Clara can continue to protect and promote the public safety of our community.”
Visit CCR’s Secure Communities FOIA case page for the text of the April 27th FOIA Complaint, all records obtained through the FOIA litigation and other relevant analysis and documents. To download the groups' response to the seven-page ICE document, click here.

The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at


Last modified 

September 1, 2010