Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has spent the better part of the past year insisting that a controversial federal immigration program known as Secure Communities requires him to hold anyone suspected of being in the country illegally, if called on to do so by U.S. officials. But in fact, it does not. Compliance is optional, and on Wednesday, the Sheriff's Department conceded as much, announcing that in light of a new legal directive from California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, it will no longer detain or hand over illegal immigrants arrested for minor offenses. Baca's shift in policy is sensible and will enhance public safety.
Secure Communities was designed to identify "dangerous criminal aliens" for deportation. Local law enforcement agencies were supposed to send the fingerprints of arrestees to federal immigration officials, who would run them through national crime databases. If an arrestee turned out to be a serious criminal, federal officials could then issue a "detainer" requesting that he be held for up to 48 hours so that federal officials could take him into custody.
But in practice, Secure Communities fails to distinguish between serious criminals and nonviolent arrestees facing civil immigration violations. In California, more than half of the 75,000 people deported under the program since it began in 2009 had no criminal history or had only mis-