Feds say there is no opting out of “Secure Communities” policing

Danilo Lopez, right, is fighting extradition from the U.S. after he was questioned when the vehicle he was riding in was stopped for speeding. He says Secure Communities causes prejudicial policing. VTD Photo/Taylor Dobbs

Danilo Lopez, right, is fighting extradition from the U.S. after he was questioned when the vehicle he was riding in was stopped for speeding. He says Secure Communities causes prejudicial policing. VTD Photo/Taylor Dobbs

A federal information-sharing policy newly implemented in Vermont has put the state’s look-the-other-way, bias-free policing policy in jeopardy.

The policy, Secure Communities, uses existing procedure and infrastructure to assist the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement division in catching illegal immigrants.

Before Tuesday, when state or local police in Vermont made an arrest and submitted the suspect’s fingerprints into the FBI database, the fingerprint information only went to the FBI database. The fingerprints were checked against known criminals or outstanding warrants, allowing for increased law enforcement capability across state lines.

Secure Communities is simple: It takes down a previously existing division between the FBI fingerprint database and ICE, thereby allowing immigration officials to track and investigate arrested individuals in Vermont.

In a statement, ICE spokesman Ross Feinstein noted that since the beginning of the program’s nationwide rollout in 2008, “Secure Communities has helped ICE remove more than 135,000 convicted criminal aliens including more than 49,000 convicted of major violent offenses like murder, rape and the sexual abuse of children. Approximately 95% of the 179,000 removals generated through Secure Communities clearly fell within one of ICE’s enforcement priorities.”

But critics of the program say the cost is too high. Migrant Justice, a Vermont-based activist group focused on the migrant community, held a protest outside Obama’s Vermont campaign headquarters Tuesday.

Danilo Lopez, a volunteer for the group, is in the process of fighting deportation after a state trooper pulled over a car he was riding in.

“I, in September of last year, was a passenger … the State Police stopped the car for speeding and the trooper saw my skin color and said ‘Hey, are you illegal? I need your papers,’ and pressured and pressured, and the trooper caller border patrol to arrest me,” Lopez said in a mix of English and Spanish.

Stories like this one shed a different light on the issue. Lopez was not committing a crime when the state police stopped the car he was in, and he says discriminatory policing led to the charges against him.

About 50 people marched through Burlington passing out orange pamphlets calling Obama “Deporter-in-Chief” and that criticize the president for lack of follow-through on campaign promises of immigration reform.

The pamphlet says Obama deported 1.4 million immigrants, set aggressive annual deportation quotas of 400,000, and is now imposing “S-COMM” nationwide without consultation.

Other communities have resisted Secure Communities, including Santa Clara County, Calif., where the county’s board of supervisors voted to opt out of a connected tactic by which ICE can request that local and state law enforcement hold someone currently in custody for an additional 48 hours to give federal enforcers time to come investigate the individual. Tuesday’s protesters called on Vermont to do the same.

But Feinstein says there is no opting out of the program.

“The information-sharing partnership between DHS and the FBI that serves as the cornerstone of Secure Communities is mandated by federal law,” Feinstein said in an email statement. “As a result, Secure Communities is mandatory in that, once the information-sharing capability is activated for a jurisdiction, the fingerprints that state and local law enforcement voluntarily submit to the FBI for criminal justice purposes to be checked against the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) biometric identification system for criminal history records are automatically sent to DHS’s biometric system to check against its immigration and law enforcement records.”

Thus, the only way for Vermont to opt out of the program is to cease voluntary submission of fingerprints into the FBI database.

When asked what he thought about the possibility of opting out of the program, Gov. Peter Shumlin said:

“It’s no secret that our national immigration policies don’t necessarily synch with the way that we see things here in Vermont, and I’ve been pretty clear and outspoken about that,” Shumlin said. “We cannot get milk to market, our farmers cannot thrive in a tough economy without some guest labor, we know that. We also know that we want to treat anyone who is working in the state Vermont with the dignity and respect they deserve and make them part of the community, not isolate them so they can’t get to the doctors, can’t get to the grocery store for fear of being found. Right now, the policy has been that whenever we do an arrest in America fingerprint arrested person and send that to a database with the FBI. They’re now going to share that with immigration. I’ve asked my commissioner, Keith Flynn, to sit down with some of the groups we’ve been working with on other issues and look at this issue and see if we can help mitigate some of their concerns.”

Commissioner of Public Safety Keith Flynn was unreachable for comment Wednesday.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated that Santa Clara County voted to opt out of Secure Communities, when in fact they voted to opt out of ICE holds, which weakens the effect of Secure Communities.

Taylor Dobbs

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7 Comments on "Feds say there is no opting out of “Secure Communities” policing"


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Dan Luneau
4 years 7 months ago

Kudos to Gov. Shumlin but we need to have our delegation in Washington fight for some middle ground on this which I strongly suspect they are already doing. Very difficult for our Vermont law enforcement community to work in a vacuum. That said we need guest labor here in Vermont and without it Vermonters will suffer. We need help now!

4 years 7 months ago
Good Story! Thanks for the coverage. A couple technicalities that should be made more clear. Vt cannot opt out of S-COMM. However, in order for S-COMM to work local, county and state police must recognize REQUESTS by ICE to detain or hold undocumented folks. These requests are only that. Under S-COMM well over 1/2 the people detained and deported were not serious criminals as the program claims. So now if someone is charged with a crime (pre-conviction) ICE can intervene without any transparency and oversight upon that person being booked and say ‘Hold them’. But, counties and some states (e.g.… Read more »
Luci Stephens
4 years 7 months ago
While ICE touts the arrest/ deportation of violent criminals as being 1/3 of aliens arrested/ deported for criminal offenses, I have not seen any data on the other 2/3 arrested. Would such data show that the negative social and economic impacts of those arrests/ departations significantly outweigh any actual public safety gain? How many more VT and NY dairy farms will cease to exist courtesy, at least in great part, of ICE predation disguised as public safety? ….and who benefits, economically and politically, from such predation? I’m not normally into conspiracy theories, but I believe it likely there is huge… Read more »
Christian Noll
4 years 7 months ago

Very well said Luci. You’re right on the ball again.

“Would such data show that the negative social and economic impacts of those arrests / deportations significantly outweigh any actual public safety gain?”


“How many more VT and NY dairy farms will cease to exist, courtisy, at least in great part, of ICE predation disguised as public safety?”

Very good question.

Luci your entire post was right on the money.

Barry Kade
4 years 7 months ago
Since submission of fingerprints is voluntary, Vermont can simply institute a policy of not sending the FBI fingerprints for those charged with misdemeanors, except possibly for crimes where there may be an overriding policy reason to do so. There was a supreme court case 15 years ago that determined that the feds “could not command the States’ executive power in the absence of a particularized constitutional authorization.” That case Printz v. United States, concerned a requirement that state officials do background checks under the Brady bill, until the federal apparatus was in place. The same principle applies here. The previous… Read more »
Frederick Walker
4 years 7 months ago
More Secure Communities? Didn’t I hear of something like that before? Yes, I think it was quite a while back. Wasn’t that what Winston Smith was talking about over at the Ministry of Truth? I believe he was saying something of that sort, out of sight of the telescreens of course. “Secdure Communties, ah, yes, to keep the proles out.” Where you heard every night the blaring of loudspeakers saying, ‘We intercepted your email, tapped your phones, and kept you under video surveilance. We found no suspicious behavior here…you are cleared to feel safe now.’ “Safe? Was that a way… Read more »
Dave Francis
4 years 7 months ago
Alabama, as Arizona and the 48 states are up against the wall of harsh forced unfunded mandates by U.S. courts. Every state is confronted by billions of dollars to pay for illegal immigration in public welfare. The cost to Alabama for Costs for Illegal Aliens as studied by The Federation of American Immigration Reform (FAIRUS) it was $2.7 billion dollars owing to the growing illegal alien population. But of course nobody knows the true amount as figures for population and the costs to support these people are kept subdued. But the majority of Americans are well aware that according to… Read more »
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