Arlington, VA

Arlington’s quest to opt out of the Secure Communities immigration enforcement program has hit a brick wall. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton tells the Associated Press that local governments cannot withdraw from Secure Communities, because the program is between states and the federal government.

Secure Communities checks the immigration status of those booked into local jails by comparing fingerprints sent to the FBI’s criminal database to an ICE immigration database. Because the fingerprints are first sent to the state, which then sends them to the FBI, local communities can’t opt out, Morton said.

He also dispelled the notion that Secure Communities forces local police departments to enforce immigration laws.

“No one in the Department of Corrections, no one in Arlington County, no one in the other jurisdictions of Virginia is being asked to enforce federal immigration law,” Morton told the AP. (That, despite this press release announcing the successful conclusion of a joint local, state and federal immigration enforcement operation in Virginia last week. Morton himself traveled to Richmond to join Gov. Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in announcing deportation proceedings against 13 immigrants convicted of sex crimes in Virgina.)

On Thursday, Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan sent a letter to Morton asking for clarification on whether Arlington can withdraw from Secure Communities. Morton says he’ll meet with individual localities to discuss the issue.

So far, federal authorities say Secure Communities has helped facilitate the removal of 40,000 criminal illegal immigrants.

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