A new program linking the state criminal database with federal immigration is expected to begin in San Francisco next month, bypassing the city's sanctuary law, officials said today.
San Francisco's sanctuary ordinance allows local law enforcement the discretion not to report those booked for misdemeanor offenses to federal immigration officials. Those booked for felonies and believed to be undocumented are still reported, under the ordinance.
Beginning in June, the San Francisco Sheriff's Department will have to participate in a new reporting system with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement called Secure Communities, according to Sheriff Michael Hennessey.
The program links the criminal fingerprint databases of state justice departments with a federal immigration database. It began in 2008 and is being implemented throughout the country.
Under the new procedure, the fingerprints of all those booked for any crime will be entered into the system, and if there is a match with a record in the Department of Homeland Security's database of immigration records, it will automatically trigger an ICE review.
Hennessey said the fact that the procedure makes no distinction as to the seriousness of the alleged offense will now make him unable to enforce the city's sanctuary law.
He added that it would be "likely that more local residents will be taken into ICE custody while their residency status is being reviewed."
"My main concern is that people understand that San Francisco's sanctuary ordinance is being circumvented, and will no longer provide the protections that it currently provides, at least in the area of criminal justice," Hennessey said.
ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said her agency's enforcement focus would remain on those who commit serious offenses such as murder or rape.
"This system is going to result in significant increases in our workload," Kice said. "We are going to have to prioritize the cases that we identify for follow-up enforcement."
Hennessey also expressed concern that the system could in the future affect those who have to submit fingerprints to apply for certain civilian jobs, such as teachers or child care workers, or those applying for social services.
"This is a law enforcement tool," Kice insisted. "Its express and explicit purpose is to identify potentially deportable criminal aliens who have been arrested and booked by local law enforcement."
"This suggestion that this system is going to be used to screen applicants for social services is absolutely baseless," Kice said.
The program has already been implemented in 169 jurisdictions in 20 states, and has begun in Alameda, Contra Costa, Solano and Sonoma counties.
Since the program started in October 2008, there have been about 2 million fingerprint inquiries into the system nationwide, according to Kice. Of those, she said, about 212,000 have turned up matches in the immigration database, resulting in more than 33,000 deportations.