Santa Clara County Ends Collaboration with ICE, Creates Local Protections Against Controversial "Secure Communities" Program
In what has been heralded as the most progressive policy in the nation, Santa Clara County today voted in a new set of guidelines for civil immigration detainers, which in effect ends the county’s collaboration with Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE). Supervisor George Shirakawa, who championed the policy, told an audience of supporters after the County Board of Supervisors' vote, “Today is historic. We now have the most progressive policy in this field, and the whole nation will be looking at us as Santa Clara County makes it official: we don’t do ICE’s job.” Civil immigration detainers are requests from ICE to the county to detain jailed individuals after the completion of their sentence from a criminal charge in order for them to get picked up for immigration detention and deportation proceedings.
For immigrant advocates and county officials, the new policy -- which will only honor detainer request if, “there is a written agreement with the federal government by which all costs incurred by the County in complying with the ICE detainer will be reimbursed” -- is a way to exert local control in the face of a controversial federal ICE program called Secure Communities. Having been rolled out in 2008, Secure Communities uses fingerprints gathered at jails to notify ICE agents of immigration status of individuals to then initiate detainer requests. Since the inception of the program, the federal government has not reimbursed any county which has honored detainer requests issued through Secured Communities. The program has also received pushback from counties and states who say Secure Communities violates targeted individuals' constitutional protections, places financial hardships on cash-strapped counties, and jeopardizes public safety by making immigrant communities fearful of law enforcement. In describing the often contentious relationship with ICE regarding Secure Communities, Supervisor Dave Cortese said, “Frankly, there has been a lack of integrity from ICE on these issues. Today, we are sending a message, one county at a time, you need to fix what’s broken before you ask us to enforce bad laws.”
Cortese’s frustration comes from a history of written commitments he says “were reneged upon” by ICE. The agency initially told counties that they had the option to opt out of Secure Communities only to rescind that offer after counties attempted to do so in 2010. Santa Clara County was one of the first in the country to attempt the opt-out. In the wake of ICE’s re-positioning around the opt-out, counties critical of Secure Communities were at a crossroads as to how to limit the fallout of the program.
Santa Clara County formed a taskforce of law enforcement agencies, informed by County Counsel, to craft a policy around the principle operating mechanism of Secured Communities – the detainer request -- given ICE’s shifting information regarding the program. On October 5, 2011, the taskforce came up with a policy that would limit the county to only honor detainers after conviction (through Secure Communities, even those who had not been found guilty of the crime that placed them in jail were still vulnerable to a detainer hold), would not honor detainer requests for juveniles, and would only honor requests for a specific list of “serious” and "violent" felonies. Given that individuals convicted of this subset of criminal charges would go to the state prison system, rather than stay in the county jail once convicted, the policy in practice would mean only a narrow few would be subject to county detainer holds. Yet, as the taskforce recommendation moved along to the full County Board of Supervisors for a final vote, Supervisor Shirakawa, the head of the Public Safety and Justice Committee, added an amendment which further limits the scope of when the county would honor detainer requests. His amendment added language around only considering detainer requests when given a written agreement for reimbursement by the federal government, and stating that except for particular circumstances, “ICE agents shall not be given access to individuals or be allowed to use County facilities for investigative interviews or other purposes, and County personnel shall not expend County time or resources responding to ICE inquiries or communicating with ICE regarding individuals’ incarceration or release date.” In explaining the amendment to the rest of the Board, he said, “ICE has lied to us in the past with Secure Communities. We need to say enough is enough.”
Jazmin Segura, a policy analyst for Services, Immigrants Rights and Education, is part of a cross-ethnic county-wide coalition of civil rights organizations who has been pushing for the policy since Secure Communities was first introduced. She says, “We congratulate the County Board of Supervisors for taking this historic step in sending a clear message to immigrant communities that local law enforcement is not ICE,” Segura says since Secure Communities was introduced, her office has received an uptick of calls from immigrant residents who were victims of crime, yet fearful to contact law enforcement.
While Segura says the policy change will greatly impact immigrant communities in Santa Clara County, some advocates see the policy as a signal that the tide is shifting as local communities develop similar strategies to respond to an increase in ICE enforcement. Angela Junk, a staff attorney with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, works with similar coalitions as the Santa Clara group in regions across the country. She says, “This policy sends the message that local participation in the enforcement of immigration laws is not mandatory and that due process and equal treatment under the law applies to all persons in the U.S.”