New ICE fingerprint program worries SF officials

San Francisco’s sheriff and a majority of supervisors on Tuesday blasted a federal program they say would gut The City’s sanctuary ordinance for illegal immigrants and called on the California Department of Justice to shield information from the federal government.

In a letter to state Attorney General Jerry Brown, Sheriff Michael Hennessey asked the state to not share fingerprint data with federal immigration authorities once a new program goes into effect June 1.

Under U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Secure Communities program, anyone arrested in The City will have their fingerprints checked against a database used by the ICE. Current San Francisco policy requires authorities to report those born outside the U.S. only when they are booked on felony charges and certain drug crimes.

“We already report felons who are booked into jail who are not born in the U.S.,” Hennessey said. “Like most agencies, ICE makes mistakes. As you widen the net, you increase the chance that someone is wrongly deported.”

Brown spokeswoman Christine Gasparac said the department is reviewing Hennessey’s request, but said ICE has the final responsibility.

“The California Department of Justice manages the statewide database of fingerprints that are essential to solving crimes, but we have no direct role in enforcing federal immigration laws,” Gasparac said in a statement. But while ICE will allow counties to opt out of receiving information, it will not allow jurisdictions to prevent information from going to the federal Department of Homeland Security, according to ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley.

The issue also has led to a conflict between the Board of Supervisors and Mayor Gavin Newsom. Supervisor Eric Mar introduced a resolution Tuesday asking The City to opt out of the program. He said eight supervisors supported the move.

The program “is misnamed in many ways because secure communities would make communities less safe and not more safe,” Mar said, adding that immigrants would be less likely to report crimes to police for fear of deportation.

“Its intent is for people that have committed violent crimes,” Newsom said. “It’s not the intent to [fingerprint] people that are teachers.”

But Hennessey worries that people seeking employment may get caught up in the database. Job-seekers looking to work as teachers or police officers have their fingerprints analyzed at the state level for a background check. Hennessey said he’s concerned that ICE will expand criminal checks into immigration checks for civil employees.

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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