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At the ACLU-SC Pasadena/Foothills Chapter’s forum about the Secure Communities program, about 40 people attended to find out the details of somewhat obscure and larger unpublicized program that is affecting many lives in all the states that implement it. The guest panel consisted of Pasadena Police Chief Philip Sanchez, Carl Bergquist of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of LA (CHIRLA), and ACLU-SC immigrant rights attorney Jennie Pasquarella, all of whom are very knowledgeable about this issue.

secure communities

Secure Communities program partners local police with federal immigration authorities. Whenever an individual is booked in a participating state, their fingerprints and immigration status is sent to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) database. Some states, like Illinois, New York, and Massachusetts have opted out of the program because it encourages racial profiling and discourages people from calling the police even in emergency situations for fear of immigration-related consequences, including the possibility of deportation. Although California is signed up to participate, San Francisco, San Jose, and a couple other cities have tried to opt out.

“The program started under the Bush administration and has been significantly enhanced and expanded under the Obama administration,” said Pasquarella. “Basically it’s an immigration enforcement program that is aimed at identifying people who are deportable through the criminal justice system."

Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez

Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez

According to Pasquarella, any person who is picked up by the police or comes into contact with police and is booked into a city or county law enforcement facility and gets their fingerprints taken during the booking process, their fingerprints and information is then instantly shared with ICE. It goes into a centralized database that keeps information about everybody, so any one of us who have been fingerprinted are in these databases.

"If you’re an American citizen or someone who has had any contact with Immigration then they have a lot of information about you," Pasquarella said. "If you are an undocumented immigrant, ICE officials will tell the local police to put an immigration hold on you, then interview you about your immigration status and can put you through deportation proceedings.”

ICE maintains that this program is needed to catch the worst of the worst, basically undocumented immigrants who commit serious crimes. Pasquarella explained that the reality is Secure Communities has not only identified those types of people, it has identified everyone who come through the criminal justice system, a lot of whom have done nothing wrong. She said this has unjust consequences on everyone’s civil liberties, on community-police relations, and that ICE is utilizing a lot of resources on a program that ultimately breaks up families and harms our communities.

“From my perspective, Pasadena Police Department doesn’t concern itself with community members’ immigration status,” said Sanchez. “So my officers don’t come up to your door and say, ‘Where are you from?’ or ‘Are you in this country legally?’"

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The Pasadena Police Department participates in Secure Communities, according to Sanchez, because it is mandated to do so by the state of California and the federal government and because Pasadena's Police Department uses a centralized county-administrated booking system.

"If you are arrested and booked at the Pasadena jail, we use a system called Live Scan, which is administered by the LA County Sheriff’s Department and instantly shares your fingerprints and information with the federal government," said Sanchez. "We can only hold someone for 72 hours, so if there are holds or mandates to hold them by ICE, they have to be transferred to an LA County jail.”

Sanchez insisted that the police department he runs enforces the law without concern for anyone’s immigration status. He said that there are different dynamics to any situation and there’s not one blanket effort to target or profile anyone as far as the Pasadena Police Department is concerned.

Sanchez is unaware of resources at the department that have been used to create a pattern or trend of someone, and that he doesn’t participate in profiling or identifying trends in respects to someone’s immigration status. Based on statistics from the federal government, Sanchez reported that about 487,000 people were deported last year.

Sanchez thinks one of the unintended consequences of 9/11 and information sharing might have been Secure Communities and the attempt to increase information sharing between state, local, and federal might have resulted in this outcome.

“It’s important to note that California was the first to sign a statewide agreement with the federal government to participate in Secure Communities,” Bergquist said during his opening remarks. “Though I must say it’s very gratifying to hear what Chief Sanchez is saying. We (CHIRLA) are based in LA. We hear a lot of the same from Chief Beck. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen here, but we’re seeing more potential profiling in places like Alabama and Arizona where this program is also used."

Berquist estimates that of the couple hundred folks that had immigration retainers placed on them by ICE in Pasadena in fiscal year 2009-10, maybe one or two of those folks were arrested for whatever reason but to no fault of the Pasadena Police Department they could have wound up in ICE custody though they were not the kind of people that ICE claims to be looking for.

justin chapman

"The problem with Secure Communities is it incentivizes profiling and creates problems for mistaken arrests," Berquist concluded.

Justin Chapman
ACLU Pasadena/Foothills