Mark A Ivener, A Law Corporation

ICE Declares ‘Secure Communities’ Mandatory, Not Optional

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton sent a letter on August 5, 2011, to governors terminating all existing Secure Communities memoranda of agreement “to clarify an issue that has been the subject of substantial confusion,” which is that “[a memorandum of agreement (MOA)] between ICE and a state is not required to operate” Secure Communities in that state. In recent months, several state and local jurisdictions had signed MOAs before participating, and some states subsequently attempted to rescind their MOAs.

Noting that participation in the program is not optional, ICE said that “[o]nce a state or local law enforcement agency voluntarily submits fingerprint data to the federal government, no agreement with the state is legally necessary for one part of the federal government to share it with another part.” ICE said it plans to continue expanding the program and hopes to achieve nationwide activation by 2013.

Secure Communities uses an already existing federal information-sharing partnership between ICE and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). For decades, local jurisdictions have shared the fingerprints of individuals who are booked into jails with the FBI to see if they have a criminal record. Under Secure Communities, the FBI automatically sends the fingerprints to ICE to check against its immigration databases. If these checks reveal that an individual is unlawfully present in the U.S. or otherwise removable due to a criminal conviction, ICE takes enforcement action, prioritizing the removal of individuals who present the most significant threats to public safety as determined by the severity of their crime, their criminal history, and other factors, as well as those who have repeatedly violated immigration laws.

ICE noted that “Secure Communities imposes no new or additional requirements on state and local law enforcement,” and that “the federal government, not the state or local law enforcement agency, determines what immigration enforcement action, if any, is appropriate.”

An example of the letter sent to governors is available as PDF. For more information on Secure Communities, see


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Mark A. Ivener, A Law Corporation, a nationally recognized law firm, has successfully assisted hundreds of clients in immigration matters.