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Targeting Immigrants – The “Secure Communities Program”

What is “Secure Communities”?

“Secure Communities” is a national immigration program that targets noncitizens who are arrested by the police. It is one of the fastest growing immigration enforcement programs in the country.

How does Secure Communities work?

If you are booked into the jail, your fingerprints are taken and forwarded to ICE. The fingerprints are crosschecked with immigration and FBI databases. ICE evaluates each fingerprint scan to see what enforcement action, if any, will be taken against you. Enforcement actions can include arrest by ICE, transfer to ICE custody and/or initiation of removal proceedings (AKA deportation).

What offenses will trigger Secure Communities?

In Santa Cruz County, every offense that results in you going to jail. For example, disorderly conduct, trespassing, petty theft, obstructing an officer/resisting arrest, and drug offenses are some charges that will be run through the Secure Communities system.

When will my fingerprints be forwarded to ICE?

 After arrest when you are being booked in the jail. During booking, the police will interview you, collect detailed biographical information, scan your fingerprints, and take photographs.

Will ICE have my fingerprints if my arrest is dismissed or ruled unlawful?

Because your fingerprints are forwarded during booking, ICE will have your fingerprint data even if the charges are dismissed or ruled unlawful.

What if the charges are dropped entirely or dropped to a lower offense?

ICE will have your fingerprints because they were transferred when you were booked for your original offense.

What if I’m a victim of domestic violence and the police arrests both me and my batterer, but the charges against me are later dropped?

If you are charged with an offense that is not on the list of exemptions, ICE will retain your fingerprints even after the charges are dropped, because they will have been transferred at the time of your arrest and booking. Currently, there is no way to retract fingerprint data once they are forwarded to ICE, even if the charges are ultimately dropped or the arrest was unjustified.

What does ICE do after they have my fingerprints?

ICE evaluates each case to see what enforcement action will be taken. Enforcement actions can include arrest by ICE, transfer to ICE custody and/or initiation of removal proceedings. If the database match is inconclusive, ICE agents may attempt to interview you by phone, video or in-person to determine whether you are a noncitizen. After you are booked, ICE agents may ask police to help them collect information about you so that can determine if you are a noncitizen.

Generally, ICE uses a “detainer” to track you within the criminal justice system. A detainer is a an ICE form (Form I-247) requesting the police or jail to hold you for an extra 48 hours after your criminal case has resolved or you have been ordered released from jail so that ICE can pick you up. Ask police officers, jail officials, or your criminal defense attorney for a copy of an ICE detainer. If a police or jail holds you longer than 48 hours after your criminal case has ended, then they are holding you illegally.

Who is most at risk under the Secure Communities program?

Everyone. People with prior deportation orders, any noncitizen with a criminal conviction or those who have violated the terms of any visa are at very high risk. Undocumented individuals who entered the country without inspection arguably will not have any fingerprint information in the DHS database although ICE may still decide to interview them.

Does this mean that the police is collaborating with ICE?

Yes. Although Secure Communities program is a technology program, ICE must rely on local enforcement agents and jails to collect or forward information about your immigration status that was acquired during booking. This means if the Secure Communities database hit isn!t clear, ICE will check-in with your local police or jail to see if they can get more information about your status.

The local government says Secure Communities is designed to target serious criminals. Does it do so?

Statistically the Department of Homeland Security’s own data indicates that the majority of individuals identified through S-Comm were charged with low level offenses. Additionally, the program forwards fingerprints at arrest, not at conviction. (This means that fingerprints are forwarded before the person has been convicted of any crime.)

What should I do if ICE tries to interview me while I am in police custody or in jail?

You do not have to speak with ICE agents nor do you have sign any papers. You do not have to answer questions about immigration status. State that you are remaining silent until you speak with your attorney. Make sure you tell your criminal defense lawyer or public defender that ICE has tried to contact you and ask them to evaluate the immigration consequences of any possible plea deal or conviction. Request a copy of the detainer from your criminal defense attorney, police officers or the jail.

What if I feel I was targeted for arrest because of my ethnicity or race or experienced other civil rights abuses by police in the name of immigration enforcement?

Contact your local immigrants rights organization or the local ACLU. Write a description as soon as you can after the event, and collect information from witnesses, if any. If you remember the names or badge numbers of the jail or police officers who abused you.


The information here was gathered from the Uncover the Truth website.

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H. Michael Steinberg Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law
The Colorado Criminal Defense Law Firm of H. Michael Steinberg
A Denver, Colorado Lawyer Focused Exclusively On
Colorado Criminal Law For Over 30 Years.
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