Sheriff Mike Hennessey Asks To Opt Out Of Immigration Fingerprint ID Program

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Beating out a resolution to be introduced today by the Board of Supervisors urging him to do so, San Francisco Sheriff Mike Hennessey asked the state attorney general today for assistance in opting out of the Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) fingerprint screening program known as Secure Communities. The sheriff states in a letter that the federal program conflicts with the city's sanctuary city ordinance.

The Secure Communities program checks the fingerprints of anyone booked into jail in local jurisdictions against ICE's database, which holds the fingerprints of anyone who has ever had contact with the immigration agency. San Francisco is slated to begin the program on June 1.

Per the current sanctuary city policy, only people who are booked in San Francisco on a felony crime or are found during booking to have a felony or previous ICE contact in their criminal history are reported to ICE. Immigration can then put a "hold" on the person, meaning after the case is adjudicated, ICE can opt to pick them up.

Since January 2007, the department has delivered more than 3,100 individuals to ICE, and has reported at least twice that number, according to Hennessey. The Secure Communities program would change the policy to demand the reporting of people booked into jail on misdemeanors or infractions as well. 

That's why Hennessey is asking that the state not check San Francisco's fingerprints against the ICE database -- just against the California Department of Justice database and FBI database as it currently does.

The attorney general's office is stating that local jurisdictions should work this out with ICE directly. "...We have no direct role in enforcing federal immigration laws," read the statement from AG Jerry Brown's office. "We were informed by ICE yesterday that they will work with counties to opt out of their program."

But it depends on how you define "opt out." ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley says "Jurisdictions can choose not to receive the immigration information, but the information will still be provided to ICE." So, basically, San Francisco can put on blinders about a reportee's immigration status, but ICE will still know.

Sort of defeats the whole point.

Hennessey also called out the Secure Communities program on a non-jail-related issue: "I am concerned about the unintended consequences of ICE technology interfacing with that of the Department of Justice's fingerprint database, which also holds fingerprints collected for non-criminal justice purposes such as employment applications." While ICE claims the program is only for identifying criminals, Hennessey's spokesperson Eileen Hirst said it creates a "serious civil rights concern" regarding ICE's ability to identify undocumented immigrants who've submitted fingerprints for jobs that require a background check.

"So the concern is, are they going to be using it to check Boy Scout leaders, day care center workers, people who have to be fingerprinted for something that has nothing to do with criminal activity?" Hirst says. 

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