The feds say states and counties have no choice in whether to participate in Secure Communities, but increasingly states and counties are saying otherwise.
This week, the California Assembly voted to restrict the sharing of fingerprints to those of undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of crimes. The federal program requires fingerprints of all those arrested or detained to be shared.
The Assembly also voted to allow counties to opt out of the program altogether.
Democrats in California’s Assembly joined other states Thursday in questioning the federal system that uses fingerprints to check the immigration status of people picked up by police.
The Assembly approved AB1081 on a 43-22 party line vote after heated debate over public safety and whether the measure would help or hurt it.
The bill would add new restrictions and let counties opt out of the state agreement on use of the Secure Communities automatic fingerprint program to screen for citizenship and criminal background.
The legislation now moves to the state Senate.
Other states have taken similar steps amid complaints the program is supposed to help deport convicted felons but has also swept up crime victims, witnesses and people who were arrested but never convicted.
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, argued that his bill would protect public safety because immigrants would be more willing to report crime if they didn’t fear deportation.
The fingerprint program “has actually harmed public safety and seriously undercut community policing strategies,” he said.
Ammiano’s bill would require changes to California’s agreement to protect juveniles and domestic violence victims; allow county governments to decide whether to participate; add protections against racial profiling; ban use of checkpoints for the purpose of checking fingerprints; and submit only the fingerprints of those convicted of a crime rather than those accused.
Officials in Los Angeles and San Francisco have raised concerns about the Secure Communities program, with San Francisco about to start limiting the information it shares.
On Wednesday, sheriffs from Yolo County in California and Kane County in Illinois held a news conference with immigration activists to oppose the program.
Illinois has decided to stop participating, and Washington state has left participation up to local jurisdictions, Federal officials have argued that states have no say in what information is shared among federal agencies.