Following Berkeley Victory, Fight Continues to Limit S-Comm

Sasha Novis
Law for the People Intern

Thanks to the diligent work of activists in the “Coalition for a Safe Berkeley,” Berkeley City Council voted on October 30 to reject federal legislation requiring city officials to work with national immigration enforcement officers. The historic vote supports Berkeley’s status as a “City of Refuge,” a title the city has officially held since 1971. Berkeley joins counties throughout the country who have passed similar measures in the past two years, in response to increasingly invasive surveillance by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) department.

“Secure Communities,” known colloquially as “S-Comm,” is a federal immigration policy which attempts to force local authorities to automatically share the fingerprints of arrestees with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). If ICE has information that the person has ever been cited for an immigration offense or is currently in the country as undocumented, she or he can be detained for an extra 48 hours, and possibly entered in removal procedures immediately – even if they are acquitted of the original crime for which they were arrested.

The program ironically makes communities less secure, as crime victims are now much less likely to report issues to the police due to fear of deportation. In addition, some U.S. citizens have even been wrongfully deported under S-Comm. According to newly-elected NLG Executive Vice President, Nadia Kayyali, the FBI and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office are now both facing lawsuits for wrongful detention.

As reported in the Daily Cal, at the October 30 meeting, the Berkeley City Council was originally considering a less restrictive policy proposed by police chief Michael Meehan that would have honored Immigration Detainer requests if the individual were in custody for a “serious or violent felony,” and was previously convicted of a serious or violent felony as well. However, after hearing from the community, the city council voted unanimously to reject Meehan’s proposal, and instead decided to implement a policy refusing to cooperate with S-Comm under any circumstances.

The newly renamed “Coalition for a Safe Berkeley” was instrumental in advocating for Berkeley’s new policy regarding immigrant detainees. The group includes the ACLU, National Lawyers Guild, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-SF), Black Alliance for Justice, Asian Law Caucus, National Network of Immigrant & Refugee Rights, and others. After the Council Meeting, Coalition leader Nadia Kayyali (a member of the NLG and a Bill of Rights Defense Committee Legal Fellow) lauded that, “This is probably the best policy in the country… It really sends a message about S-Comm, and makes council’s statements in the past, about not supporting the program, a reality.” However, Kayyali also reminded the community that there is more work to be done. While the Berkeley policy will protect the 1-2 people a month who were being sent into deportation procedures from the Berkeley holding jail, it does not cover other facilities in the county. Once arrestees are transferred to the county jail or juvenile hall, their information may still be submitted to ICE.

California activists and politicians are still working to ratify the California TRUST (“Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools”) Act, which Governor Jerry Brown rejected on October 1, 2012. The bill, which passed in the California State Assembly in August 2012, prohibits California officials from detaining an individual due to an immigration hold from ICE once he or she has become eligible for release from criminal custody (with the exception of those previously convicted of felonies). Brown claimed that the TRUST Act, in its current incarnation, offers a much too narrow definition of “dangerous crimes” under which officials would cooperate with detainers. Proponents of the TRUST Act are hoping to get a revised draft approved in early 2013. The bill would contribute toward truly “secure communities,” as California citizens could continue to report crimes without fear of a deportation.

NLG immigration activists are also working to pass a Berkeley-like policy in San Francisco. While the city already has a non-binding policy opting out of S-Comm, NLG activists are advocating for the Board of Supervisors to adopt a binding resolution by April 2013. Guild Members are organizing visits to Supervisors to push them on this issue. If you are a resident of San Francisco, look out for meetings with your local representative.