Reporting from San Francisco -- A California congresswoman Friday called for an investigation into the actions of federal immigration officials, saying they lied about whether counties and states had the right to opt out of a controversial nationwide enforcement program that screens for illegal immigrants in local jails.
"It is inescapable that the [Department of Homeland Security] was not honest with the local governments or with me" about whether local jurisdictions must participate, said U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose). "You can't have a government department essentially lying to local government and to members of Congress. This is not OK."
The so-called Secure Communities program, launched in 2008, was promoted to local and state leaders as a way to focus enforcement efforts on "serious convicted criminals." But the program, which uses fingerprint data, has come under fire because it has ensnared a high proportion of immigrants who have never been charged with a crime or who have been charged with minor infractions.
Critics say it discourages illegal immigrants from reporting crimes and opens the door to racial profiling.
A number of local jurisdictions — including Santa Clara and San Francisco counties — have asked that their fingerprint data not be sent to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security's investigative arm. Federal officials initially told them they could opt out, an assertion repeated by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Assistant Atty. Gen. Ronald Weich in September letters to Lofgren.