Abuse victims face deportation if found in San Francisco's ICE database

A woman calls police because she is the victim of a domestic violence incident. Police arrive, but the attacker accuses the woman of being the aggressor. Unable to sort out blame, police arrest both people.

Charges are dropped against the woman, but because of a new federal program that The City has been forced to participate in, her fingerprints are sent through a federal database.

Federal immigration officials find out she is an undocumented immigrant who they have been trying to deport and demand the sheriff keep her in custody.

Within weeks, a victim of domestic violence is being deported because she reported the incident to police.

That precise scenario has played out at least three times in recent months in Northern California, according to Angela Chan, a San Francisco police commissioner and immigration attorney. She and other local law enforcement officials worry such cases will deter the reporting of domestic violence by undocumented immigrants.

And it appears there is no solution. Sheriff Michael Hennessey has attempted to opt out of the federal Secure Communities program, which since June has required his office to turn over every fingerprint taken to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Although there was hope new California Attorney General Kamala Harris could find a legal way for the department to not participate, Hennessey said last week his office has been informed there is no legal way to opt out.

The program conflicts with San Francisco’s long-standing sanctuary ordinance, which has protected undocumented immigrants who are arrested but not charged, or only charged with a misdemeanor.

Also, Hennessey expressed frustration with the way the program has been implemented.

“It’s just been one disaster after another in terms of how they’ve rolled this out,” he said. “It’s the worst rollout of a federal program since the Susan B. Anthony dollar.”

Acting police Chief Jeff Godown described the program as a messy situation.

“The SFPD is not in the immigration business,” he said. “Would I like to opt out of it? The answer is yes.”

Chan said she knows of three victims of domestic violence, two of whom are her clients, who are now being deported. One case, involving a person Chan identified only as M.H., a Japanese national married to a U.S.
citizen — and the mother of his 1-year-old daughter — was arrested and turned over to the ICE after calling police during a physical altercation.

Her daughter has been turned over to foster care, and M.H. is in custody and fighting deportation.

Chan said the case, which predated Secure Communities by several weeks, is becoming more common with the program.

ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley said she was not familiar with that or the other cases and would not comment on specifics. She said the Secure Communities program is intended to help federal officials catch serious

“Our goal is to protect public safety,” Haley said. “That’s where our priority is.”



What is Secure Communities?

Federal program seeks to identify serious criminals in country illegally.

  • Secure Communities is a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement program designed to identify immigrants in U.S. jails who are deportable under immigration law. Participating jails submit arrestees’ fingerprints not only to the criminal databases they have historically checked, but also to immigration databases. This provides ICE instantaneous information on individuals held in jails. As of October, the program was available in 686 local jurisdictions in 33 states. The program will be implemented in all 3,100 state and local jails in the nation by 2013.

Sources: American Immigration Council, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

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