*Update: Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) has demanded an investigation into the actions of the Immigration Customs and Enforcement agency, saying that officials were not truthful about whether jurisdictions could opt-out of the Secure Communities program.
“You can’t have a government department essentially lying to local government and to members of Congress,” Lofgren told the Los Angeles Times.“This is not OK.”
Documents released by advocates on April 14 confirmed local frustration with the federal government’s fast-track expansion of the Secure Communities program – this time in California.
Many of the 500 documents released via litigation include email correspondence between officials with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) that document its public relations campaign to implement the program in resistant counties such as San Francisco.
San Francisco Sheriff Mike Hennessey sent two letters to ICE last year requesting withdrawal from the program. His second request was in response to ICE’s August 2010 “Setting the Record Straight” which outlined an opt-out process. It was initially declined by then Attorney General Jerry Brown Jr..
Several emails address Hennessey’s letters and setting up meetings with AG Brown to discuss legal authority for the program and withdrawal concerns.
In an email dated Sept. 1, 2010, ICE’s Western Regional Communications Spokesperson Virgina Rice wrote,”I spoke
with the AG’s Special Asst. and they are not comfortable with us placing this decision squarely at their feet.”
In another Sept. 1 email from an undisclosed official, they wrote, “I’ve spoken with Virginia twice today as she’s been feeling very nervous about how the Henessey issue is breaking … She reached out to the CA AG to discuss as she was feeling like she was throwing them under the bus. Virginia spoke with Special Assistant, who pointedly did not want ICE publicly saying they would defer to the state and reference the AG’s letter to Sheriff [Hennessey].
Emails also show how ICE officials provided mixed messages to local officials on the program’s voluntary and mandatory nature, and crafted new language to describe their shift from the voluntary formula to a deferral to 2013 formula.
In a May 25, 2010 email to undisclosed persons, one official wrote, “the domino effect is starting.” The email also lists concerns from officials in San Mateo and Marin County Juvenile Probation.
“I also spoke with Marin County Juvenile Probation yesterday and they were quite agitated about the program being “forced” on them and why the Chief Probation Officers were not invited to the outreach,” wrote the official in the email. “I told him I would be happy to come speak to him so I will work on arranging it. I’m guessing this is just the tip of the iceberg as the SF Sheriff has a strong voice in the Bay area.”
In another Sept. 1, 2010 email, ICE Director John Morton wrote that AG Brown called to inquire about San Francisco’s latest request to opt out of Secure Communities. “Apparently, our local [public affairs officer] told the media, San Francisco could opt anytime if the AG would authorize it. That was a surprise to the AG, and he would like to discuss further,” Morton wrote.
Another email dated Sept. 29, 2010 from an FBI official, wrote that the Secure Communities message is inconsistent. “I don’t agree with Vince and it amazes me that we were all in the same room and he thinks this message is consistent,” he or she wrote. “Feel free to correct me but it is my understanding that opt-out for now does NOT mean the agency doesn’t get the second response. Opt-out for now means the agency is not turned on and ICE will not continue to receive the leads. I haven’t lost my mind (and my understanding is right) we need to get this message to Vince before they start talking to the states.”
The disclosed documents comes on the heels of a meeting between newly elected California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) to talk about limiting the program in the state. Ammiano introduced in February the Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools (TRUST) Act that would do just that by modifying current agreements between ICE and counties in the state, and making it an opt-in program with safeguards including preventing racial profiling.
“The program is ruining trust between immigrant communities and the police. But here in California, we can do better,” Ammiano said last month. “This bill is a practical solution that lets local governments have a say and restores some balance to this dysfunctional system.”
This isn’t the first set of documents to reveal frustration and confusion from state and local officials over the Secure Communities program. Last month, the New York Times reported internal documents showed that immigration officials launched an aggressive campaign to obtain participation from two Illinois counties after officials in those counties refused to join.
Deportation Nation also reported in February that another set of documents revealed how federal authorities kept altering their stance on whether local police are required to share arrest data with immigration agents, even if they ask not to. Those documents showed that ICE gave several counties in California instructions on how to formally request to opt-out of Secure Communities, only to then activate them against their will.
The documents were obtained through Freedom of Information Request (FOIA) litigation by the National Day Laborers Organizing Network, Center for Constitutional Rights and the Cardozo School of Law, who have disclosed the full list of documents can be viewed here.