APRIL 27, 2011
State and county officials who think they can drop out of a mandatory federal program that checks the immigration status of local arrestees have been misled by the Department of Homeland Security’s ambiguous orders.At least that’s the explanation offered by the agency’s beleaguered leader, Janet Napolitano, who finally clarified the matter to a growing number of local officials trying to get out of theSecure Communities program. Launched a few years ago, the initiative requires local authorities to check the fingerprints of arrestees against a federal database. The idea is to deport dangerous criminals, many of whom have fallen through the cracks over the years.But some local leaders refuse to participate in Secure Communities, mainly to protect illegal immigrants who they assert contribute to society. California has even created legislation to let any municipality in the state opt out of Secure Communities and Maryland’s MontgomeryCounty is on the verge of doing the same thing. These sorts of efforts have been going on for months as Napolitano, the Obama official in charge of protecting the nation’s safety, watched from the sidelines.This week she finally spoke out after a federal lawmaker accused the Department of Homeland Security of lying to counties and states by telling them that participating in Secure Communities was optional. Calling the agency’s actions “dissembling and deceiving,” theCalifornia congresswoman has ordered an investigation. If Napolitano knew about the lies, “something has to be done about her,” according to the congresswoman, Zoe Lofgren.Napolitano fired back, acknowledging that there has been “confusion” over the matter and that communications from her agency were “subject to misinterpretation.” However, Madame Secretary made clear that local governments cannot “exclude themselves” from participating in Secure Communities.
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