Santa Clara County supervisors may have voted this fall to opt out of a controversial program that shares booking fingerprints from local jails with federal immigration officials, but the feds this week sent a message of their own: No dice.
Confusion has roiled for months about the Secure Communities program, which the government says has led to the deportation of nearly 47,000 illegal immigrants nationwide since it was introduced just a year ago.
Although the program is meant to focus on undocumented residents who've been convicted of murder, rape and other serious crimes, opponents say it's snared people jailed for low-level offenses such as traffic violations. They also say it's led to racial profiling and has made immigrants afraid to report other crimes, such as domestic violence.
Earlier this year, San Francisco County's sheriff sought permission from Attorney General Jerry Brown to opt out of the program, but Brown -- who at the time was running for governor -- refused, saying the program ensures public safety.
After similar protests in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, as well as in other states, federal officials appeared to soften. A September memo from the U.S. Immigration Control and Enforcement said local jurisdictions could request not to participate.
Federal Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano confirmed as much in a letter to U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Immigration.
However, in October -- two weeks after Santa Clara County supervisors instructed staff to prepare such a request -- ICE reversed course. It declared that while federal officials would meet with local governments to discuss the issue, in the end, the agreement is with the states, which collect jail booking data and share it with Washington, D.C.
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