Atty. Gen. Harris says federal deportation program goes too far


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California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris says a federal program with the goal of deporting illegal immigrants convicted of serious crimes has made illegal immigrants fearful of cooperating with police, even when they were victims.

‘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 Tuesday.


She told local law enforcement agencies they were not obligated to comply with the federal law, called Secure Communities. Under the program launched in 2008, all arrestees’ fingerprints are sent to immigration officials, who may ask police and sheriff’s departments to hold suspects for up to 48 hours after their scheduled release so they can be transferred to federal custody.

Although the intent may have been to improve public safety, Harris said that a review of data from March through June showed that 28% of those targeted for deportation in California as a result were not criminals.

Those numbers, she noted, had changed little since U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement a year earlier pledged to reform the program to focus on the most serious offenders. ‘Secure Communities has not held up to what it aspired to be,’ Harris said.

The law enforcement bulletin she issued Tuesday stated that ‘immigration detainer requests are not mandatory, and each agency may make its own decision’ about whether to honor them. Harris said her office conducted its analysis after dozens of agencies across the state inquired about whether they were compelled to honor the ICE requests.

While immigrant-rights advocates applauded her announcement, they said it did not go far enough. Allowing police chiefs and sheriffs to craft their own policies without state guidance, they said, could lead to disparate enforcement and enable racial profiling.

This ‘should eliminate the confusion among some sheriffs about the legal force of detainers,’ said Reshma Shamasunder, executive director of the California Immigrant Policy Center. ‘The only logical next step is a strong, statewide standard that limits these burdensome requests.’


One attempt by legislators to do just that unraveled in October with Gov. Jerry Brown’s veto of the Trust Act. The proposed law by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) would have forbidden police departments to honor federal detainer requests except in cases in which defendants had been convicted of a serious or violent crime.

Ammiano on Monday reintroduced a modified version of the measure. Harris said she had opposed the bill’s last iteration for going ‘too far’ and had not seen the current version, but looked forward ‘to working with the governor and any of our lawmakers to take a look at what we can do to improve consistency.’


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-- Lee Romney in San Francisco and Cindy Chang in Los Angeles