(Los Angeles) Today, advocates in California made public hundreds of emails between federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and California officials regarding the “activation” of California’s cities and counties in ICE’s controversial “Se Communities” (S-Comm) program, which ensnares local police in federal immigration enforcement efforts. The documents were obtained by the National Day Laborer Organization, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Cardozo Immigrant Justice Clinic through Freedom of Information Act litigation.
The emails reveal a federal agency in state of disarray, and a chorus of questions and complaints from California cities and counties wary of thrusting their police into the role of immigration enforcers.
“The domino effect is starting,” wrote an unidentified ICE official on May 25, 2010.(1) Questions about S-Comm were rolling in after strong opposition from San Francisco and Santa Clara County. Marin County’s Juvenile Probation Office was “quite agitated about [S-Comm] being ‘forced’ on them.”(2) San Mateo and Riverside County were requesting clarification on how they could opt-out of the program.(3) Sonoma County representatives were “upset” about receiving misleading information from ICE.(4) The ICE official frantically sought “messaging that can help . . . keep them on board.”(5)
“The ‘messaging’ ICE settled on, the emails show, centered on deliberately misleading California officials – from county sheriffs to Congressional representatives – about S-Comm’s voluntary nature, and about what ‘opting out’ of the program entailed,” explains Chris Newman, Legal Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. Information provided to Santa Clara County in May 2010 was approved over the phone, rather than in writing, to “give them plausible deniability if this Santa Clara thing goes south.”(6) Top-level ICE officers provided vastly different definitions of opt out to concerned California officials, some of which were purposely crafted to be misleading.(7) An FBI employee observing the process noted, “It amazes me that we are all in the same room and he thinks this [opt out messaging] is consistent.”(8)
Confusion about S-Comm went beyond the feasibility of opting out. “The emails also reveal confusion about the legal authority for the program and its true focus” says Angela Chan, Staff Attorney with the Asian Law Caucus. Despite concerns raised by then-Attorney General Jerry Brown as early as September 2010 about whether S-Comm was picking up minor offenders and traffic violators, ICE publicly insisted that S-comm focused on deporting convicted criminals.(9)
ICE officials also scrambled to identify legal authority for the program. In early presentations to the California Department of Justice, they apparently relied on a section of Proposition 187 that had been struck down by California Courts as unconstitutional.(10) In fact, later emails clarify, “There is no legislation that makes [Se Communities] mandatory.”(11)
The Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools Act (“TRUST ACT”), currently scheduled to be heard in the public safety committee of the California Assembly on April 26th, aims to fix the ways that S-Comm’s misleading focus, over-broad reach and lack of transparency have eroded trust between police and immigrant communities and sparked considerable open government concerns. The TRUST Act would honor the right of local governments to opt out of the troubled S-Comm program. The Act also sets basic safeguards for those that do participate in the program to protect against racial profiling, protect the rights of children and domestic violence survivors, and upholds the right to a day in court by only reporting for deportation individuals convicted, not merely accused, of crimes.
Documents Can Be Found at http://bit.ly/scomm-foia-ca
1. ICE FOIA 10-2674.0003246.
3. Id.; ICE FOIA 10-2674.0007167.
4. ICE FOIA 10-2674.0003815.
5. ICE FOIA 10-2674.0003246.
6. ICE FOIA 10-2674.0007174.
7. Compare 10-2674.0007229 (S-Comm Director David Venturella’s deliberately misleading definition of opt out for San Francisco Sheriff Hennessey) with 10-2674.0005151 (S-Comm Deputy Director Marc Rapp’s contrary definition of opt out, given to Congressional representatives the same week).
8. FBI SC 1726.
9. ICE FOIA 10-2674.0007228; 10-2674.0006127-6128.
10. ICE FOIA 10-2674.0007308.
11. ICE FOIA 10-2674.0005568. …