ICE Says Secure Communities Will Stay Active Even if States Opt-Out

ICE says it has decided to “terminate” contracts with states for its increasingly unpopular Secure Communities program. But that doesn’t mean the data-sharing enforcement program will stop.

The announcement came in a letter to state governors that seeks to “clarify an issue that has been the subject of substantial confusion” as ICE continues its plan to implement the program nationwide by 2013.

“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,” reads the letter.

Currently 1,508 jurisdictions are activated in 44 states and territories – including Puerto Rico.

In recent months Illinois, New York and Massachusetts have all tried to suspend or cancel their agreements to share arrest data from local jails with ICE, citing fear within immigrant communities that any contact with police could lead to deportation, along with concerns about racial profiling and unjust deportations.

These states have yet to respond to the announcement but advocates there have been quick to condemn it. ICE is “rogue agency” that “is trying to rule by fiat,” said Fred Tsao of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights policy director.

Chris Newman, Legal Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said ICE had wasted the time of both willing and resistant officials with”protracted negotiations–at substantial cost to the American public–for what it now claims are sham contracts.”

In its letter, ICE tried to “highlight recent improvements” to Secure Communities and noted it has appointed a task force to review the program. A nationwide series of public hearings is set to begin next week in Dallas, Texas. But now some advocates wonder whether ICE really wants feedback.

“I hope this announcement will show to people who are on the task force that ICE’s efforts to say they want to hear from the public are really just a sham and they should resign,” said Sunita Patel, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Patel is part of a team that is locked in a legal battle with ICE over the release of documents originally requested in 2009 through the Freedom of Information Act.

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin has ordered ICE to hand over the public records. “The purpose of FOIA is to shed light on the operation of government, not to shield it from embarrassment,” she said in July.

ICE until August 15 to release the public records – a decision it may appeal after she already granted two extensions.

Some advocates say ICE’s announcement is an an attempt to preempt what the documents will reveal.

Here is an excerpt from the FAQ included in the letter Morton sent today to state governors:

12. Will the Secure Communities MOAs that have already been executed remain in effect?
What is the effect of a termination of a Secure Communities MOA?

Because ICE has determined that an MOA with a state is not necessary to activate or operate
Secure Communities for jurisdictions within that state, ICE has decided to terminate all
existing MOAs. For states that already terminated their MOAs, ICE will honor the state’s
desire to no longer receive information regarding the immigration status of an individual
whose fingerprint information is submitted to the federal government via the FBI, and will
cease providing the immigration status information generated through Secure Communities
to the state.

The termination of the MOAs will have no effect on the operation of Secure Communities
for any state. ICE will continue to operate Secure Communities for jurisdictions where it is
already deployed and, over the next two years, will activate the program for the remaining
jurisdictions. ICE will fully deploy Secure Communities for all jurisdictions by the end of
2013. Prior to the activation of new jurisdictions within a state, ICE will provide advance
notice to both the state and local governments.

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