California Attorney General Kamala Harris speaks at a news conference at the State of California building in San Francisco, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
SAN FRANCISCO — California's top prosecutor said Tuesday it's up to local police agencies to decide whether to comply with federal government requests to hold illegal immigrants.
The statement by state Attorney General Kamala Harris involves the federal Secure Communities program, which was launched in 2008 to catch the worst criminal offenders.
However, Harris said the effort is flawed because about-one third of people targeted by the requests in California have never committed a serious crime.
The Secure Communities program checks the immigration status of people who are arrested for any crime, and federal immigration officials have insisted local police agencies must honor all requests for detentions.
By PAUL ELIAS
Published: Tuesday, December 4, 2012 at 1:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 4, 2012 at 1:31 p.m.
Harris said her office has received dozens of inquiries from sheriffs and police chiefs confused about whether they must comply and hold detainees for up to 48 hours after they otherwise would have been released.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and others have said they want to stop honoring the immigration detention requests in cases involving low-level crimes.
"In the interest of public safety, it is our recommendation that those chiefs and sheriffs make a decision about whether or not they will detain an illegal immigrant based on their priorities," Harris said.
The bulletin points out that the federal government neither reimburses the local police agencies nor protects them from lawsuits for wrongful arrests.
It asserts that the federal government can't "require state officials to carry out federal programs at their own expense."
Last fall, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill to limit law enforcement involvement with Secure Communities, which has been blasted by immigrant advocates who say it deters the reporting of crime because people are afraid to come forward.
Santa Clara County and Cook County, Ill., preciously stopped honoring immigration detainers under the program.
The program is being reformed to focus "on criminals, recent border crossers and repeat immigration law violators" as targets for deportation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Lori Haley said.
"ICE is committed to continuing to work with local law enforcement to promote public safety and address potential threats to our communities," Haley said.