OAKLAND (CBS SF) — The Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 Tuesday to approve a resolution calling on Sheriff Greg Ahern to stop participating in a federal program that has led to the deportation of nearly 2,000 county residents since 2008.
The resolution was sponsored by Supervisor Richard Valle, who said he believes the federal immigration enforcement program called “Secure Communities” is “problematic” and “flawed” because he thinks it causes too many people to unjustly be deported and separated from their families.
Secure Communities is a voluntary program in which local law enforcement officials forward fingerprints of anyone they arrest to federal authorities, who then compare the prints against a database to check arrestees’ criminal histories and immigration status.
The resolution approved by the board after more than two hours of public comment. More than 50 community members who spoke in favor of the resolution said the program “undermines” the trust that local law enforcement has with the community and “harms public safety by increasing fear in the immigrant community of coming forward to report crimes and cooperate with local law enforcement.”
The resolution also said the Board of Supervisors doesn’t support
U.S. Immigration and Customs and Enforcement (ICE) agents being given access to inmates held in criminal custody or using county facilities for investigative interviews with inmates.
However, the resolution is only advisory because the decision on participating in the program is up to Ahern, who reiterated after the meeting Tuesday that he will continue to participate in it even though he admits it has flaws.
The lone vote against the resolution was cast by Supervisor Scott Haggerty, who called the meeting “a waste of time” and “a farce” because it doesn’t change the sheriff’s policy.
“The Sheriff will do whatever he wants so this is symbolic and means nothing,” Haggerty said.
But Board President Keith Carson said “the focus on this issue doesn’t go away” and urged people opposed to the current policy to lobby state legislators in Sacramento to change the state’s immigration laws.
Ahern said Secure Communities “is not a perfect system” but he said “it’s the only system we have in place to assure that people from outside the state or the country get identified through fingerprinting.”
He said, “I understand the resolution, but we still need to have people fingerprinted.”
Ahern said he wants to make sure that people who are deported after being arrested in other states for violent crimes or multiple offenses and later get arrested in Alameda County for a minor offense don’t fall through the cracks because they weren’t checked out.
People with such backgrounds “shouldn’t be released to our communities,” Ahern said.
Ahern said he’s committed to reviewing immigration detainees “on a case-by-case basis” so that those who arrested for minor offenses after living in California all of their lives without a criminal record are distinguished from those with long and violent criminal histories.
The sheriff said he has an “issue” with the resolution because it suggests that ICE officials have “done nothing good.”
He said, “Our immigration partners have done a lot of great work sending back violent criminals who we wouldn’t want in our communities.”
(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)