California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris on Tuesday told local law enforcement agencies that they were not obligated to comply with a controversial federal program launched in 2008 with the goal of deporting illegal immigrants convicted of serious crimes.
It was Harris' first public assessment of Secure Communities, under which all arrestees' fingerprints are sent to federal immigration officials, who then may ask police departments to hold suspected illegal immigrants so deportation proceedings can begin.
While the intent may have been to improve public safety, Harris said that a review of data from March through June of this year showed that 28% of those targeted for deportation in California as a result were not criminals. Those numbers, she noted, changed little since Immigration and Customs Enforcement pledged a year earlier that the program would be reformed to better target the most serious criminals.
"Secure Communities has not held up to what it aspired to be," Harris said. The law enforcement bulletin she issued Tuesday stated that "immigration detainer requests are not mandatory, and each agency may make its own decision" about whether to honor them.
Some elected officials and local law enforcement agencies have complained that -- in addition to pulling in those arrested for minor offenses -- Secure Communities had made undocumented immigrants fearful of cooperating with police, even when they themselves were the victims.
On Tuesday, immigrant-rights advocates applauded Harris' announcement.