SAN FRANCISCO - In a letter sent today, Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. declined San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey's request to allow San Francisco to opt out of participating in Secure Communities, a national program that links the fingerprints of arrestees to a federal database maintained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that checks whether an arrestee is in this country illegally and has previously committed crimes.
"I think this program serves both public safety and the interests of justice,' Brown said. 'ICE's program advances an important law enforcement function by identifying those individuals who are in the country illegally and who have a history of serious crimes or who have previously been deported.'
California law designates the California Department of Justice to maintain the state fingerprint database for law enforcement purposes. When someone is arrested, the county forwards the fingerprints to the DOJ to identify the person, determine his or her criminal history and to discover any outstanding warrants. As in every other state, the DOJ then forwards those fingerprints to the FBI to check for any history of criminal activity outside of the state. Under the Secure Communities program, the FBI also forwards fingerprints collected at arrest to ICE. Before the inception of Secure Communities allowing fingerprint identification, if a county suspected an arrestee was in the country illegally, the county submitted the person's name to ICE for a background check.
Brown's letter is below:
Sheriff Michael Hennessey
City and County of San Francisco
Room 456, City Hall
Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, CA 94102
RE: Secure Communities
Dear Sheriff Hennessey:
I am writing in response to your letter regarding the Secure Communities program developed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The program is scheduled to be rolled out in San Francisco next month. You requested that the California Department of Justice (DOJ) block ICE from running checks on the fingerprints collected in San Francisco. The Secure Communities program is up and running in 169 counties in 20 states, including 17 counties in California. Because I think this program serves both public safety and the interest of justice, I am declining your request.
The DOJ Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigative Services is the entity designated by California law to maintain a database of fingerprints used in the state for law enforcement purposes. When someone is arrested, the county forwards the fingerprints to the DOJ to identify the person, determine his or her criminal history and to discover any outstanding warrants. As in every other state, the DOJ forwards those fingerprints to the FBI to check for a history of criminal activity outside of the state. Under the Secure Communities program, the FBI forwards fingerprints collected at arrest to ICE. If ICE finds a match to prints in its database, ICE notifies the county. ICE's stated intent and practice is to place holds on those individuals who are in the country illegally and who have a history of serious crimes or who have been previously deported.
Prior to the Secure Communities program, the name, but not the fingerprint, provided by an individual on arrest was run through ICE's database of people known by ICE to be in the country illegally. Often, individuals with a criminal history were released before their immigration status was discovered. Using fingerprints is faster, race neutral and results in accurate information and identification.
In these matters, statewide uniformity makes sense. This is not simply a local issue. Many of the people booked in local jails end up in state prison or go on to commit crimes in other counties or states.
I appreciate your concern. But I believe that working with the federal government in this matter advances important and legitimate law enforcement objectives.
EDMUND G. BROWN JR.