YAKIMA -- Yakima County Commissioners have reaffirmed their decision to move forward with Secure Communities, saying the program only clamps down on offenders and doesn't unfairly target Latinos.
"At this point, we're firmly behind moving forward with it," Commissioner Kevin Bouchey said Wednesday in a telephone interview. "We have to do what we feel is in the best interest of the community."
The decision to stick with the program came at Tuesday's commission meeting, where about 10 people turned out in support.
Secure Communities connects the county's electronic fingerprint database to the Department of Homeland Security. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement then can put holds on suspected illegal immigrants booked in the jail.
Bob West, the leader of anti-illegal immigration group Grassroots of Yakima Valley, praised the commissioners. "This is definitely a step in the right direction," he said Wednesday. "It was nice to see something go in the right direction for a change."
A week ago, opponents surprised commissioners at their regular meeting in city hall chambers and argued that the program would make immigrants fearful of reporting crimes and being witnesses in criminal cases.
Bouchey said there is a lot of confusion about the program.
By allowing ICE to electronically access fingerprints, the agency can put holds on people wanted on immigration charges before they are released. Although ICE regularly visits jails throughout the Valley, some offenders are released before ICE can track them, Bouchey said.
"It's only if you're arrested and have a prior criminal alien history," he said. "It's a stopgap."
The program doesn't target Latinos in general, Bouchey said, adding that people who are witnesses or report crime are not arrested and fingerprinted. "I think there are a number of fears floating around -- they're unfounded," he said.
Commissioners plan to further explain the program when leaders of the Latino community hold a July forum to discuss an array of issues.