Immigrant groups criticize fingerprint initiative
By IVAN MORENO
Associated Press Writer
DENVER- The federal government is rapidly expanding a program to identify
illegal immigrants using fingerprints from arrests, drawing opposition from
local authorities and advocates who argue the initiative amounts to an
The program has gotten less attention than Arizona’s new immigration law,
but it may end up having a bigger impact because of its potential to round
up and deport so many immigrants nationwide.
The San Francisco sheriff wanted nothing to do with the program, and the
City Council in Washington, D.C., blocked use of the fingerprint plan in the
nation’s capital. Colorado is the latest to debate the program, called
Secure Communities, and immigrant groups have begun to speak up, telling the
governor in a letter last week that the initiative will make crime victims
reluctant to cooperate with police “due to fear of being drawn into the
Under the program, the fingerprints of everyone who is booked into jail for
any crime are run against FBI criminal history records and Department of
Homeland Security immigration records to determine who is in the country
illegally and whether they’ve been arrested previously. Most jurisdictions
are not included in the program, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement has
been expanding the initiative.
Since 2007, 467 jurisdictions in 26 states have joined. ICE has said it
plans to have it in every jail in the country by 2013. Secure Communities is
currently being phased into the places where the government sees as having
the greatest need for it based on population estimates of illegal immigrants
and crime statistics.
Since everyone arrested would be screened, the program could easily deport
more people than Arizona’s new law, said Sunita Patel, an attorney who filed
a lawsuit in New York against the federal government on behalf of a group
worried about the program. Patel said that because illegal immigrants could
be referred to ICE at the point of arrest, even before a conviction, the
program can create an incentive for profiling and create a pipeline to
deport more people.
“It has the potential to revolutionize immigration enforcement,” said Patel.
Patel filed the lawsuit on behalf of the National Day Laborer Organizing
Network, which is concerned the program could soon come to New York. The
lawsuit seeks, among other things, statistical information about who has
been deported as a result of the program and what they were arrested for.
Supporters of the program argue it is helping identify dangerous criminals
that would otherwise go undetected. Since Oct. 27, 2008 through the end of
May, almost 2.6 million people have been screened with Secure Communities.
Of those, almost 35,000 were identified as illegal immigrants previously
arrested or convicted for the most serious crimes, including murder and
rape, ICE said Thursday. More than 205,000 who were identified as illegal
immigrants had arrest records for less serious crimes.
In Ohio, Butler County Sheriff Rick Jones praised program, which was
implemented in his jurisdiction earlier this month.
“It’s really a heaven-sent for us,” Jones said. He said the program helps
solve the problem police often have of not knowing whether someone they
arrested has a criminal history and is in the country illegally.
“I don’t want them in my community,” Jones said. “I’ve got enough homegrown
Carl Rusnok, an ICE spokesman, said Secure Communities is a way for law
enforcement to identify illegal immigrants after their arrest at no
additional cost to local jurisdictions. Jones agreed.
“We arrest these people anyway,” he said. “All it does is help us deport
people who shouldn’t be here.”
Rusnok said ICE created the program after Congress directed the agency to
improve the way it identifies and deports illegal immigrants with criminal
backgrounds. ICE has gotten $550 million for the program since 2008, Rusnok
Rusnok said the only place he knows of that has requested not to be a part
of Secure Communities is San Francisco, which began the program June 8.
Eileen Hirst, the chief of staff for San Francisco Sheriff Michael
Hennessey, said it happened “without our input or approval.”
Hirst said the sheriff thought Secure Communities cast too wide a net and
worried that it would sweep up U.S. citizens and minor offenders, such as
people who commit traffic infractions but miss their court hearings. Hirst
also said the program goes against San Francisco’s sanctuary city policy
that calls for authorities to only report foreign-born suspects booked for
“Now, we’re reporting every single individual who comes into our custody and
gets fingerprinted,” Hirst said.
California Attorney General Jerry Brown denied Hennessey’s request to opt
out. Brown said that prior to Secure Communities, illegal immigrants with
criminal histories were often released before their status was discovered.
This month, Washington, D.C., police decided not to pursue the program
because the City Council introduced a bill that would prohibit authorities
from sharing arrest data with ICE out of concern for immigrants’ civil
rights. Matthew Bromeland, special assistant to the police chief, said
police wanted the program and were talking with ICE about how address
concerns from immigrant advocates before the bill forced them to halt
Colorado officials became interested in the program after an illegal
immigrant from Guatemala with a long criminal record was accused of causing
a car crash at a suburban Denver ice-cream shop, killing two women in a
truck and a 3-year-old inside the store. Authorities say the illegal
immigrant, Francis M. Hernandez, stayed off ICE’s radar because he conned
police with 12 aliases and two different dates of birth.
A task-force assembled after the crash recommended Secure Communities as a
Evan Dreyer, a spokesman for Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, said Ritter
recognizes that other states have had issues with the program and he wants
to take time to consider the concerns raised by immigrant rights groups
before deciding “how or if to move forward.”
The Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition said in its letter to the governor
that the Secure Communities is “inherently flawed and should not be
implemented.” CIRC said one of its main concerns is that in cases of
domestic violence, where both parties may be taken into custody while
authorities investigate a case, victims may feel reluctant to report a crime
out of fear that their illegal status will be discovered.
ICE maintains that only suspects arrested for crimes – and not the people
reporting them – will be screened for their legal status.