Federal immigration officials announced Friday that they were terminating the joint agreements with state and local governments that have been at the center of a controversy surrounding a national fingerprint-sharing program, although they said they would continue setting up the program unilaterally.
In a letter to 40 governors and local officials who had signed the agreements, John Morton, the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the change was intended to eliminate widespread confusion, which has plagued the program since its kickoff in 2008, over whether the agreements were necessary to start the program. The move also seemed intended to remove political pressure from local officials who felt uneasy about appearing to collaborate with federal authorities on immigration enforcement.
The California Legislature has been working on legislation to amend the state's 2009 agreement to allow counties and cities to opt out. The Assembly passed the opt-out bill in May and the full Senate was expected to pass it later this year. The bill's sponsor, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, called Morton's announcement an "outrageous" affront to democratic governance.
"If the administration truly had the authority to force this dysfunctional program down the throats of every local government, why would they waste thousands of hours signing binding contracts with state officials across the country?" Ammiano said in a written
The federal decision was met with a chorus of criticism from immigrant groups. More than 200 immigrant advocacy groups recently signed a letter demanding that the Obama administration suspend the program until changes are made to ensure that illegal immigrants who are not criminals are not deported. But Friday's move made clear that the administration had no intention of suspending or even slowing the pace of the program.