San Francisco officials are about to lose the ability to decide which criminal suspects who may also be undocumented immigrants should be reported to federal officials, The Chronicle has learned.
Starting next month, the San Francisco County Jail must begin participating in an automated reporting system set up by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The program, Secure Communities, automatically links the fingerprint databases of state justice departments with a database used by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, known as ICE.
As part of San Francisco's 1989 sanctuary city policy, officials only report felony suspects whose legal status can't be readily confirmed upon booking to federal officials. The new program would end that discretionary practice because all digital fingerprints will automatically be forwarded to the state Department of Justice and on to federal immigration authorities for review.
"Essentially, this guts San Francisco's sanctuary ordinance in terms of criminal justice," San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey told The Chronicle on Wednesday.
Hennessey raised concerns that the implications could be far broader and potentially affect anyone whose fingerprints are run through the California Department of Justice for a criminal background check, including those applying for certain jobs, such as child care worker and teacher.
But David Venturella, national director of the Secure Communities program, said Wednesday night that Hennessey's concerns are baseless. The system is designed only to check the backgrounds of suspected criminals who come into contact with police, sheriffs, highway patrol and the like. To assert otherwise, he said, "is not true."