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ICE rescinds Secure Communities MOAs, program continues

Photo by Chad Miller/Flickr (Creative Commons)

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has confirmed a conference call held earlier today regarding the future of the agency's embattled Secure Communities fingerprint-sharing program, which several state and local governments have announced plans to drop. They can't, according to the agency's latest move.

Agency spokeswoman Nicole Navas in Washington, D.C. sent along this statement regarding "a conference call with stakeholders earlier today on this matter:"

“In order to clarify that a memorandum of agreement between ICE and a state is not required to operate Secure Communities for any jurisdiction, today, ICE Director John Morton sent a letter to Governors terminating all existing Secure Communities MOAs to avoid further confusion."

State and local jurisdictions had signed memorandums of agreement, or MOAs, with the federal government before initiating their participation in the program, which the agency has insisted is not optional. The agreements can be interpreted otherwise. From the agreement between Homeland Security and the California Department of Justice, dated January 23, 2009:
This MOA may be modified at any time by mutual written consent of both parties.

This MOA may remain in effect from the date of signing until it is terminated by either party. Either party, upon written or oral notice to the other party, may terminate the MOA at any time. A termination notice shall be delivered personally or by certified or registered mail and termination shall take effect 30 days after receipt of such notice.

Navas confirmed that the decision announced today rescinds all of the agreements that have been signed with the federal government, allowing the Secure Communities program to continue in operation in all states and jurisdictions, including those where leaders have announced plans to drop out.

The governors of Illinois, Massachusetts and New York had recently announced plans to get out of the program, which allows for the fingerprints of people booked into local jails to be shared with immigration authorities, a scenario some say alienates immigrant communities and impedes policing. The mayor of Boston was the latest local leader to voice opposition. Several county and local governments have tried to drop the program in the past, including the city of San Francisco, but have been told by ICE that they cannot.

Today's statement from ICE continued:

"Secure Communities promotes the agency’s top enforcement priority of finding and removing those who are unlawfully present or otherwise removable and have criminal convictions by relying on an already-existing federal information-sharing program, consisting of the sharing of biometric data between two federal law enforcement agencies—DHS and the FBI.

"Once a state or local law enforcement agency voluntarily submits fingerprint data to the federal government, no agreement with the state is legally necessary for one part of the federal government to share it with another part."

The statement went on to cite recent "enhancements" to the program, including a memo urging agency officials to use prosecutorial discretion in individual immigrants' cases. The agency plans to keep expanding the program and hopes "to reach complete nationwide activation by 2013.”

Immigrant advocates are protesting the agency's decision. Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, expressed her anger in an emailed statement.

"This latest step is simply outrageous and we call on Governor Brown and Attorney General Harris to stand for the true values of California, and tell ICE that S-Comm needs to end," Salas wrote.