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L.A. is urged to support limiting local participation in deportation program

Two council members' proposed resolution takes aim at the federal Secure Communities plan, under which arrestees' fingerprints are shared with immigration officials.

May 26, 2011|By Paloma Esquivel and Lee Romney, Los Angeles Times
  • Councilman and former Police Chief Bernard C. Parks listens during a council debate during his first term.
Councilman and former Police Chief Bernard C. Parks listens during a council… (Perry C. Riddle / LAT )

Adding their voices to a growing number of opponents, Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard C. Parks and Councilwoman Jan Perry have called on the city to support limiting the scope of local participation in a controversial federal deportation program.

The City Council resolution proposed Tuesday on the Secure Communities program comes as San Francisco County prepares to implement a new policy seeking to do the same. On Wednesday, law enforcement officials, including Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto, held a national news conference to outline their concerns about the federal program.

Secure Communities, under which arrestees' fingerprints are shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was touted as a way to help identify and deport illegal immigrants convicted of serious crimes. It has come under fire for leading to the deportation of those who were either arrested but not subsequently convicted of a crime or convicted of misdemeanors or infractions, such as a traffic violation.

Of 38,828 people in California deported through Secure Communities between May 2009 and March of this year, about 12,000 were charged with or convicted of major violent offenses, while nearly 11,000 were classified as non-criminal deportees, according to ICE statistics.

The proposed council resolution supports a bill like that sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), which requires that only fingerprints of convicted felons be run through the immigration database. The bill also contains protections for domestic-violence victims and juveniles and would make the enforcement program optional for counties.

Parks said the program directly contradicted the intent of Special Order 40, a more than 30-year-old Los Angeles Police Department policy that prohibits police from initiating contact with anyone for the sole purpose of determining whether they are in the country illegally.

"I wanted to express what I believed was the position of this city over the last decades," said the former police chief. "From what I can read of the program, a high percentage of those who are being deported have not necessarily committed the most serious crimes."

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has been a vocal proponent of Secure Communities. "The program enables law enforcement agencies to identify criminals who are here illegally and allows the federal government to target those who have committed serious crimes for deportation so they no longer pose a threat to our communities," Baca wrote in The Times this month.

On Wednesday Sheriff Ed Prieto of Yolo County; Sheriff Patrick Perez of Kane County, Ill.; Arturo Venegas Jr., the retired police chief of Sacramento; and immigration rights activists held a news conference to express their opposition to the program. Illinois recently terminated its participation agreement, though it remains unclear whether federal officials will honor the action.

Prieto, who said he was unaware for a long time that the program was even in place, said he is now looking for ways to get out of it.

Meanwhile, San Francisco County Sheriff Michael Hennessey has crafted a new policy that will deny immigration holds for arrestees who have committed infractions or low-level misdemeanors. It is expected to go into effect June 1 and comes after San Francisco and Santa Clara counties unsuccessfully sought to opt out of the federal program.

ICE detainer requests —- which ask that suspects be held for 48 hours so immigration authorities can fetch them — will still be honored for more serious misdemeanor suspects and for those who have committed a prior felony, two prior misdemeanors or a domestic violence offense, or violated a domestic violence protective order. Those arrested on minor offenses without such priors will be cited and released. Arrestees whose charges are later dropped will also be released, rather than turned over to ICE, the policy states.

ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice called the decision unfortunate and said ICE detainers are an effective tool to ensure that those arrested "on criminal charges, who are also in violation of U.S. immigration law, are not released back into the community to potentially commit more crimes."

paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

lee.romney@latimes.com

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