SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California's top prosecutor said Tuesday it's up to local police agencies to decide whether to comply with federal government requests to hold illegal immigrants.
The statement by state Attorney General Kamala Harris involves the federal Secure Communities program, which was launched in 2008 to catch the worst criminal offenders.
Governors in New York, Illinois and Massachusetts previously announced their desire to pull out of the program in 2011, and various municipalities and counties around the country have withheld cooperation or expressed opposition.
States such as Colorado and Arizona have supported the program since its inception.
The Obama administration said in June 2011 that it would reform the program to target only the most serious threats to public safety.
Harris said Tuesday the program is still "flawed" because nearly one-third of the people targeted by the requests in California have never been convicted of a crime.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement statistics indicate that 2,388 illegal immigrants with no convictions were detained and deported after arrests in California under the program between March 1 and June 30.
Another 1,955 were deported after misdemeanor convictions during the same period, while 4,094 convicted felons were deported.
The Secure Communities program checks the immigration status of people who are arrested for any crime, and federal immigration officials have insisted local police agencies must honor all requests for detentions.
Harris said her office has received dozens of inquiries from sheriffs and police chiefs confused about whether they must comply and hold detainees for up to 48 hours after they otherwise would have been released.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and others have said they want to stop honoring the immigration detention requests in cases involving low-level crimes.
"In the interest of public safety, it is our recommendation that those chiefs and sheriffs make a decision about whether or not they will detain an illegal immigrant based on their priorities," Harris said.
In a bulletin, she pointed out that the federal government neither reimburses the local police agencies nor protects them from lawsuits for wrongful arrests.
She also asserted that the federal government can't "require state officials to carry out federal programs at their own expense."
Last fall, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill to limit law enforcement involvement with Secure Communities, which has been blasted by immigrant advocates who say it deters the reporting of crime because people are afraid to come forward. A similar bill was reintroduced this week in the state Legislature.
The California State Sheriffs Association, which opposed the original state bill, said it was reviewing Harris' position before commenting.
Santa Clara County and Cook County, Ill., among others, previously stopped honoring immigration detainers under the program.
The program is being reformed to focus "on criminals, recent border crossers and repeat immigration law violators" as targets for deportation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Lori Haley said.
"ICE is committed to continuing to work with local law enforcement to promote public safety and address potential threats to our communities," Haley said.