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New York pulls out of federal immigration program

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo notes concerns that Secure Communities compromises public safety
  • His announcement is the latest sign that the program faces opposition from state officials
  • Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has also withdrawn his state from the program
  • Obama has said his administration's deportation policy focuses on criminals

New York (CNN) -- New York is pulling out of a controversial federal program aimed at catching and deporting illegal immigrants with criminal histories, the state's governor said Wednesday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he is suspending the state's participation in the program because of concerns about "its impact on families, immigrant communities and law enforcement in New York."

Under the program, known as Secure Communities, law enforcement agencies run the fingerprints of people they arrest against immigration databases, aiming to find illegal immigrants.

Critics have said it results in deportations of immigrants who are in the United States illegally but have no criminal arrest record.

Cuomo described some of those criticisms in a letter sent to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Wednesday.

"The heart of concern is that the program, conceived of as a method of targeting those who pose the greatest threat in our communities, is in fact having the opposite effect and compromising pubic safety by deterring witnesses to crime and others from working with law enforcement," he wrote.

"Until the numerous questions and controversies regarding the program can be resolved, we have determined that New York is best served by relying on existing tools to ensure the safety of its residents," he added.

Cuomo's announcement was the latest sign that the federal program, which authorities plan to deploy nationwide in 2013, is facing growing opposition from some state and local officials.

Last month Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn also said his state was withdrawing from the program. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has held a series of public meetings soliciting opinions on it.

And San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey said that starting Wednesday, he would ignore Secure Communities requests to detain undocumented immigrants suspected of low-level misdemeanors, CNN affiliate KTVU reported.

But federal officials have praised the program, arguing that it allows authorities to catch criminals who otherwise could fall through the cracks.

"We are helping to keep communities safe and ensuring the integrity of our immigration system," Marc Rapp, the program's acting assistant director, said in a statement last month.

Obama did not mention the program by name in his speech on immigration reform in El Paso, Texas, last month, but he said his administration's deportation policy was focused on criminals.

"We are deporting those who are here illegally. And that's a tough issue. It's a source of controversy. But I want to emphasize we're not doing it haphazardly," he said. "We're focusing our limited resources and people on violent offenders and people convicted of crimes -- not just families, not just folks who are just looking to scrape together an income."

But critics of Secure Communities have said that is not the case.

A group of them gathered outside Cuomo's New York City office last month, chanting and carrying signs that said, "No more deportations," "Don't tear apart our families" and "ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), get out of New York, now."

"We know that the law is applied unjustly to families, to workers who are here trying to make a better life," said Juan Carlos Ruiz of the New Sanctuary Movement.

In a May 24 report, the Department of Homeland Security said Secure Communities was active in more than 1,300 jurisdictions in 42 states.

CNN's Adriana Hauser contributed to this report.