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California enrolls in biometric system to crack down on illegal immigration

Published 1 March 2011

Last week California became the ninth state in the United States to fully deploy the Secure Communities program, which automatically runs an arrested individual’s fingerprint through a national database to determine their immigration status; each year law enforcement officials arrest an estimated one million non-U.S. citizens; ICE has deported more than 62,500 aliens convicted of crimes under the program; critics of the program believe that use of the system has led to the arrest and deportation of noncriminal immigrants and are also concerned about the mandatory use of the system; a report found that in Illinois 78 percent of all detainees identified by ICE were non-criminals

Last week California became the ninth state in the United States to fully deploy the Secure Communities program, which automatically runs an arrested individual’s fingerprint through a national database to determine their immigration status.

Secure Communities is operated in partnership by U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Justice (DOJ). When a fingerprint is scanned by a local law enforcement official, the arrested individual’s name and fingerprint are automatically sent to a federal file-sharing system where it is checked against biometrics based immigration records and FBI criminal records.

Under the system, if the fingerprints are matched to someone in DHS’ biometric database, ICE agents will be notified and they can determine the suspect’s immigration status to see if further actions are required. Illegal immigrants convicted of crimes like major drug offenses, murder, rape, or kidnapping are given higher priority.

Marc Rapp, the acting assistant director for Secure Communities, said, “What we’re seeing here is ICE receiving leads and taking the appropriate enforcement action in almost real time as that information is coming in.”

He added, “There is no instance where some individuals are having their identities queried and others are not. It happens across the board, thereby eliminating the potential for racial profiling.”

According to ICE estimates, each year law enforcement officials arrest one million non-U.S. citizens. Since the program began in late 2008, ICE has deported more than 62,500 aliens convicted of crimes.

Local law enforcement agents in several counties in southern California that have implemented the system found it helpful in identifying criminals that have entered the country illegally.

Dave Wilson, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department commander of custody and court operations, said the program helps to reduce fraud and enforce immigration laws.

“[Secure Communities] is one more stopgap to learn whether people are being honest about their immigration status,” he said. “Without this, we wouldn’t know that DHS would want to have contact with them; it’s automatic.”

In May 2009, San Diego County was the first to introduce the system in California and since then it has arrested nearly 48,000 illegal aliens and deported 23, 712 criminals as a result of those arrests.

In January an aggravated felon from Mexico who had already been deported several times was arrested for driving with a suspended license in Los Angeles. After scanning his fingerprint, ICE agents found that he had three previous drug trafficking convictions, a burglary conviction, and had been deported six times in the last eleven years.

Officials say that the program is cost effective and takes little time or resources to implement.

Virginia Kice, an ICE spokesperson, explains, “One of the benefits of this program, it doesn’t require any training or expenditure by local law enforcement.”

Wilson reaffirmed these statements saying, “It doesn’t really impact our operation at all. It’s just a piece of information that gets shared with the federal government, and they let us know if it’s either a match or no match.”

Critics of the Secure Communities program believe that use of the system has led to the arrest of noncriminal immigrants.

Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) recently released a report that found 78 percent of all detainees identified by ICE under the Secure Communities programs were non-criminals compared to a nation-wide average of 27 percent.

Sheriff Patrick Perez of Kane County opposed the program, as his county has seen the highest number of non-criminal deportations and detentions.

He said, “I am opposed to the detention and deportation of anyone who has not been convicted of a crime, and it is a problem that over 80 percent of Secure Communities detainees in Kane County are non-criminal aliens. This situation creates an unnecessary burden to our jails and local taxpayers.”

In response to these findings, the Chicago City Council unanimously approved a moratorium on the deportation of illegal immigrants.

Critics are also concerned about the mandatory use of the system, but Kice sought to assuage the opposition by stating that while local jurisdictions cannot opt out of the program, they can choose not to receive the results of ICE findings.

 

So far eight states other than California have fully deployed the system across all its counties including Texas, Florida, and Delaware. ICE reports that as of 15 February 2011, 1,049 jurisdictions across thirty-nine states have implemented the system.

ICE expects the full deployment of Secure Communities across the United States by 2013.

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