ICE To States: Participation In Secure Communities Mandatory

image source: FBI

Mickey McCarter
Homeland Security Today

States cannot decline participation in a program that shares criminal fingerprints with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to determine the immigration status of those prisoners, the chief of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) wrote to governors Friday.

After determining that ICE did not require the voluntary participation of states, counties, cities, or other jurisdictions with the federal program known as Secure Communities, ICE Director John Morton announced that all 39 voluntary memoranda of understanding signed with those jurisdictions to date were now canceled. Instead, participation in the program is considered mandatory for all states and localities.

“I seek to clarify an issue that has been the subject of substantial confusion: whether a memorandum of agreement (MOA) between ICE and a state is necessary to operate the program in that state. ICE has determined that an MOA is not required to activate or operate Secure Communities for any jurisdiction,” Morton wrote. “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. For this reason, ICE has decided to terminate all existing Secure Communities MOAs.”

States already run fingerprint checks against databases maintained by the Justice Department to gain background information on offenders or suspects and to determine if they have committed crimes in other jurisdictions. By Morton’s argument, the Justice Department can share that fingerprint info with DHS without the voluntary acknowledgment of the states. DHS would then use that info to determine the immigration status of criminals.

Basically, those jurisdictions already participating in Secure Communities will see no change in the program, Morton said. And those jurisdictions that are not participating soon will be.

“This change will have no effect on the operation of Secure Communities in your state. ICE will continue to operate Secure Communities for jurisdictions where it is already deployed and will continue to activate the program for new jurisdictions. Of course, we will notify your office prior to the activation of any new jurisdictions for your state. We anticipate all remaining jurisdictions will be activated by 2013,” Morton wrote.

The goal of Secure Communities, or S-Comm, is to identify illegal immigrants who have criminal histories, thus posing a threat to US communities, and begin to process them for deportation.

But privacy and immigration groups have opposed the program since its establishment in October 2008. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) blasted Morton’s letter to governors Friday.


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