Drew Joseph, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
More than one-fourth of illegal immigrants deported from the United States under a federal program that supporters touted as a way to identify and deport dangerous criminals were not convicted of crimes, according to government reports released Tuesday.
In California, 26 percent – 3,875 out of 14,823 – of those deported as part of the program from May 2009 to the end of June were not criminals, while 4,128 were convicted of the most serious crimes, the reports from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement showed.
Critics of the program said the numbers demonstrate that it has failed to reach the most serious criminal immigrants, while at the same time instilling fear of local law enforcement officers among immigrant communities.
Secure Communities requires states to forward the fingerprints of people who are booked into jails to federal immigration officials so that agents can check the prints against their databases. If there is a match, local authorities must hold the person until federal authorities come for him or her.
The program has been rolled out to almost half of California’s communities and was implemented in San Francisco on June 8.
Sheriff Michael Hennessey, who along with the Board of Supervisors opposed the program, said in a conference call Tuesday that federal agents have picked up people in San Francisco whose charges were dropped after their arrest. Those people, he said, were “presumably deported.”
The federal agency known as ICE “sweeps up all the little people along with what they say is their intention, which is to deport serious and violent criminals,” Hennessey said.
An ICE official said that Secure Communities is responsible for the removal of 34,600 convicted criminals and that someone identified as a noncriminal may still be an immigration fugitive or may have been previously deported.
Hennessey said he had thought San Francisco could opt out of the program, but that request was denied by state Attorney General Jerry Brown.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, the chair of an immigration subcommittee, wrote in a letter last month to two members of President Obama’s Cabinet that “there appears to be significant confusion about how local law enforcement agencies may ‘opt out’ ” of the program.
Subcommittee staff members “were briefed on this program by ICE and were informed that localities could opt out simply by making such a request to ICE,” Lofgren wrote. “Subsequent conversations with ICE and (the FBI) have added to the confusion by suggesting that this might not be so.”
An official in Lofgren’s office said she has not heard back from the Cabinet members, but one of them, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, announced Tuesday that Secure Communities had been deployed in all 25 U.S. counties on the Mexican border.
E-mail Drew Joseph at [email protected].
This article appeared on page C – 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle