California lawmakers take aim at Secure Communities

California lawmakers will decide Tuesday whether to set strict limits on how local law enforcement agencies participate in a controversial federal immigration program, Secure Communities.

The Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools, or TRUST Act, is intended to settle an ongoing battle over how Secure Communities operates across the states. If the bill is approved Tuesday by the Senate Public Safety Committee, it will move on to the appropriations committee.

Launched in 2008, the federal program requires police to submit the fingerprints of everyone booked into local jails to federal officials, who then check for criminal convictions and against an immigration database. Homeland Security officials then issue notices asking local police to detain individuals pending transfer to federal custody.

The problem is that the Secure Communities program was initially billed as voluntary. However, states and counties soon learned it was not an effective way to nab immigrants with serious criminal convictions. Those detained turned out to be immigrants with no convictions or who had only committed misdemeanors. That pushed some counties to seek to withdraw, only to learn they could not opt out. That’s become a big issue in California and elsewhere. Some police departments have expressed concern that Secure Communities is hurting, not helping, law enforcement efforts by making it harder for police to seek the cooperation of immigrants who fear any contact with law enforcement may ultimately lead to deportation.


The TRUST Act would require police to continue to detain only those immigrants for deportation purposes who have a serious or violent felony conviction under state law.

Whether or not the TRUST Act is approved, the bill underscores that Secure Communities isn’t working as promised. A better solution would be for the Obama administration to shelve the program until it can deliver on its promise to go after immigrants who pose a real threat to the communities they live in. Leaving Secure Communities in place will probably only produce more local bills seeking to shape how state and counties take part in federal immigration enforcement.


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