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Documents Sought on ‘Secure Communities’

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The Asian Law Caucus sued the Department of Homeland Security for information about pending legislation meant to limit California law enforcement officers from enforcing immigration laws, including the so-called "Secure Communities" program.

The Asian Law Caucus, a civil rights organization, sued the DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Federal Court, seeking "information about communications between ICE, the governor's office, the California Sheriff's Association, and others regarding the TRUST Act, immigration detainers, and the Secure Communities program."

ICE's Secure Communities program has been criticized for years as deceptive and abusive. ICE sold it to Congress and the public as a program targeting criminal undocumented immigrants, but uses it to stage warrantless raids on houses, workplaces and public places, according to numerous lawsuits.

The complaint states: "The TRUST Act aims to limit the involvement of California law enforcement agencies in federal immigration enforcement. It would alter the impact of California's participation in ICE's 'Secure Communities' deportation program, through which ICE: (1) requires local police to check arrestees' immigration status and (2) issues 'immigration detainers,' which request that police detain individuals suspected of being deportable for transfer to ICE. Opponents of the program argue that it results in the deportation of individuals who pose no public safety concern, threatens public safety by destroying trust between police and immigrant communities, drains local resources, and encourages racial profiling. The TRUST Act would address these concerns by limiting compliance with immigration detainers to individuals who have been convicted of serious or violent felonies."

The California Senate and Assembly passed the bill last summer. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it.

"In meetings with advocates, Governor Brown's staff confirmed that the Governor's Office had communicated with ICE officials about the TRUST Act in advance of the governor's veto," the complaint states.

Brown promised to work with the Legislature and stakeholders on an amended version of the bill and the TRUST Act was reintroduced to the Assembly on Dec. 3, 2012.

"Shortly after the TRUST Act was reintroduced, ICE, Governor Brown and the California Sheriff's Association - the only organizational opponent of the TRUST Act - met behind closed doors and discussed the TRUST Act, immigration detainers, and the Secure Communities program. This meeting was not open to the public," the complaint states.

"ICE has a history of misrepresenting facts about the Secure Communities program to the public and to state and local officials. ICE also has a history of attempting to influence state and local officials who seek to limit compliance with Secure Communities."

The San Francisco-based Asian Law Caucus was founded in 1972. It claims to be the first legal and civil rights group in the nation founded to serve poor Asian-Pacific Americans.

It submitted a FOIA request to ICE on Dec. 21, 2012 seeking information so it could "inform the public debate on the TRUST Act," which the Assembly is expected to vote on by May 31.

"The documents requested by ALC are essential to enable the public to hold the government accountable for actions that impact public safety, state resources and the rights of immigrant communities," the complaint states.

But the law caucus claims ICE has "engaged in a series of demands to ALC to narrow the scope of records sought under its request. Although not required to comply with these demands, ALC has complied with each demand in order to expedite ICE's search and production of the urgently needed requested documents.

"ICE has not acted on any substantive portion of ALC's request. It has neither denied nor complied with ALC's substantive request for documents, and is continuing to delay production of responsive documents."

ICE has failed to produce a single responsive document, the law caucus says.

"ALC is bringing this action to vindicate the public's right to information concerning the influences behind Governor Brown's veto and the Sheriff's Association's opposition to the TRUST Act and to ensure the public's ability to participate in the on-going work on this bill in an informed manner," the complaint states.

The Asian Law Caucus wants to see the records.

It is represented by Jessica Karp with the UC Irvine Immigrant Rights Clinic.

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