More counties join Secure Communities

Published 2 April 2010

Across the United States, 135 jurisdictions in 17 states have joined DHS’s (and DOJ’s) Secure Communities project; Secure Communities offers local jurisdiction an information-sharing capability: if an individual is arrested, his or her fingerprint information will now be simultaneously checked against both FBI criminal history records and the biometrics-based immigration records maintained by DHS, meaning that both criminal and immigration records of all local arrestees will be checked

On Tuesday, law enforcement agencies in Union, Brunswick, Columbus, Dare, Halifax, Jackson, Lee and Transylvania counties in North Carolina began employing a new information-sharing capability that modernizes the process used accurately to identify criminal aliens in the community.

Developed by the Departments of Justice (DOJ) and DHS, the information-sharing capability is the cornerstone of Secure Communities, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) initiative to enhance efforts to identify and remove criminal aliens from the United States.

Previously, local arrestees’ fingerprints were taken and checked for criminal history information against the DOJ biometric system maintained by the FBI. With this new information-sharing capability, that fingerprint information will now be simultaneously checked against both FBI criminal history records and the biometrics-based immigration records maintained by DHS.

If any fingerprints match those of someone in DHS’s biometric system, the new automated process notifies ICE, enabling the agency to take appropriate action to ensure criminal aliens are not released back into communities. ICE says that top priority is given to individuals who pose a threat to public safety, such as those with prior convictions for major drug offenses, murder, rape, robbery, and kidnapping (but see “88,000 U.S. Citizen Children Lost Lawful Immigrant Parent [Green Card Holders] to Deportation,” 1 April 2010 HSNW; the article notes that more than 68 percent of lawful permanent residents (LPRs, or Green Card holders) who were deported from the United States between April 1997 and August 2007, were deported for minor crimes, including driving under the influence, simple assault, non-violent drug offenses, non-violent theft, forgery, and other minor offenses, many of which may not even be felonies under criminal law).

Secure Communities provides local law enforcement with an effective tool to identify criminal aliens,” said Secure Communities executive director David Venturella. “Enhancing public safety is at the core of ICE’s mission. Our goal with Secure Communities is to use biometric information sharing to prevent criminal aliens from being released back into the community, with little or no additional burden on our law enforcement partners.”

With the expansion of the information-sharing capability to these eight counties, there are now twenty-one North Carolina counties using this tool, including Buncombe, Cabarrus, Catawba, Cumberland, Duplin, Durham, Gaston, Harnett, Henderson, Mecklenburg, New Hanover, Orange, and Wake. Across the United States, 135 jurisdictions in 17 states have this capability. By 2013 ICE expects to make Secure Communities available nationwide.

ICE says that since its inception in October 2008, Secure Communities has identified more than 18,800 aliens charged with or convicted of Level 1 crimes, such as murder, rape, and kidnapping — more than 4,000 of those individuals have already been removed from the United States. Most of the criminal aliens who have been identified but not yet removed are completing their sentences. Additionally, ICE has removed more than 24,700 aliens charged with or convicted of Level 2 and 3 crimes, including burglary and serious property crimes, which account for 90 percent of the crimes committed by aliens.

Secure Communities is part of DHS’s comprehensive plan to distribute technology that links local law enforcement agencies to both FBI and DHS biometric systems. DHS’s US VISIT Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) holds biometrics-based immigration records, while the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) contains biometrics-based criminal records.

US VISIT is proud to support ICE, helping provide decision makers with comprehensive, reliable information when and where they need it,” said US VISIT director Robert Mocny. “By enhancing the interoperability of DHS’s and the FBI’s biometric systems, we are able to give federal, state and local decision makers information that helps them better protect our communities and our nation.”

Under this plan, ICE will be utilizing FBI system enhancements that allow improved information sharing at the state and local law enforcement level based on positive identification of incarcerated criminal aliens,” said Daniel D. Roberts, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division. “Additionally, ICE and the FBI are working together to take advantage of the strong relationships already forged between the FBI and state and local law enforcement necessary to assist ICE in achieving its goals.”