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Move to limit federal fingerprint program

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POSTED June 25, 2012 1:35 a.m.

SACRAMENTO  (AP) — A bill that would pull back California’s participation in President Barack Obama’s flagship immigration enforcement program is gaining momentum a week after Obama halted the deportation of young illegal immigrants.

A key policy committee recently approved legislation that would limit the state’s participation in Secure Communities, a federal fingerprinting program that calls for local jails to give immigration officials arrestees’ fingerprints and to hold those who are deemed to be in the United States illegally.

AB1081 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano would prohibit law enforcement from keeping people who have not been convicted of a serious felony in jail only for immigration enforcement reasons. The bill now moves to its final committee.

His office says it would be the first statewide policy of its kind.

“Under the guise of acting for homeland security, the program has been very duplicitous,” said the San Francisco Democratic lawmaker. “The immigrant rights community and many people throughout the nation are very upset by what they see as racial profiling, indiscriminant sweeps, and to add insult to injury, if a person is detained by a community, the community pays for the incarceration.”

Under the program, local law enforcement officers submit fingerprints of all arrestees to federal officials for a check of immigration status. Immigration and Customs Enforcement can then place a “hold” on the suspect and ask the local agency to detain them until ICE agents can take custody.

The program was sold as a way to find and detain illegal immigrants who are also criminals. But critics say that many of those being deported through the system have never been convicted of serious crimes.

Secure Communities has resulted in the deportation of tens of thousands of people, with more than a third of those coming from California. That’s drawn fire from immigrant and civil liberties advocates around the country.

Ammiano notes that seven out of ten of the Californians deported under the program had no convictions, or were convicted of only minor offenses. Since 2009, California law enforcement officers have turned over about 73,000 illegal immigrants for deportation through the program.

Known by supporters as the “Trust Act,” the bill could have national implications because California has had more deportations under Secure Communities than any other state.

ICE does not comment on pending legislation, but in a statement, spokeswoman Virginia Kice emphasized the efficacy of the program.

“Secure Communities has proven to be the single most valuable tool in allowing the agency to eliminate the ad hoc approach of the past and focus on criminal aliens and repeat immigration law violators,” she said.

About 50,000 people convicted of major violent offenses including murder and rape have been deported through the program nationwide, she said.

A handful of other states have seen efforts to opt out of the program, which is supposed to be mandatory across the country by 2013.

As originally introduced in 2011, AB1081 would have allowed counties opposed to Secure Communities, including San Francisco and Santa Clara, to opt out completely. Local law enforcement officers in these cities argue that involving local police in immigration enforcement erodes trust with immigrant communities.

The original bill sailed through the Assembly, but Ammiano put it on hold last summer after federal immigration officials made the program mandatory nationwide. The new version of the bill must pass through a final Senate committee before it reaches the floor for a vote, and then would head back to the Assembly. As the latest incarnation of the bill has no formal opposition, advocates anticipate that the main sticking point will be with Gov. Jerry Brown.

In addition to limiting the kinds of offenders jails can detain for immigration reasons, the bill It would also require local agencies to adopt a plan to address concerns about racial profiling and the relationship between immigrants and the police.

For Ammiano, the bill goes hand in hand with Obama’s new policy on deportations.

“The big demand is that we have comprehensive immigration policy, which we don’t have, and I think that allows for abuse,” he said. “I don’t want to make a jobs program for the department of immigration.”

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