GovBytes: Should Communities Be Forced To Share Fingerprints With The Feds?

David Raths of Government Technology reported recently on an interesting question: Should state and local governments be allowed to “opt out” of a controversial DHS program that automatically shares criminals’ fingerprints with federal immigration officials? The program, called “Secure Communities,” suffers from confusion about whether governments get to choose if they want to be involved or not.

Traditionally after individuals are charged with a crime and booked, their fingerprints were checked for criminal history against the Department of Justice’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). With Secure Communities, fingerprints submitted through the state to the FBI are automatically checked against both the FBI criminal history records in IAFIS and the biometrics-based immigration records in the DHS Automated Biometric Identification System.

If a fingerprint match is found in the DHS system, the automated process notifies ICE, and ICE determines if immigration enforcement action is required, considering the alien’s status, severity of the crime and the person’s criminal history. Priority for deportation is placed on aliens convicted for major drug offenses, murder, rape and kidnapping.

Federal Fingerprint Sharing Program Meets Resistance

A number of state and local governments have taken umbridge at the notion that they should be forced to participate in the program.

The public safety commissioner of Providence, R.I., and chairman of the board of Arlington County, Va., are among those looking to DHS for answers. Confusion stems from a lack of clarity about whether the program is voluntary or mandatory. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a letter that it’s up to communities to decide for themselves whether they want to be involved, but a spokesperson later backtracked, suggesting instead that states and localities have control only over whether they receive federal immigration information but not whether their information is shared with the system.

Critics of Secure Communities say the program dissuades witnesses from reporting crime for fear they or the perpetrator will be deported. In fact, 62,500 illegals have been deported after being convicted of crimes since September 2008. State and government officials, privacy and civil rights advocates and members of the general public are among those who oppose participating in the program. In some states, leaders are actively looking for legislative and logistical ways to circumvent the process.

Do you think law enforcement and immigration enforcement ought to be kept separate? Should states get to decide whether or not to share arrestees’ fingerprints with federal immigration officials?


“GovBytes” is a blog series created by GovLoop in partnership with Government Technology. If you see great a story on Gov Tech and want to ask a question around it, please send it to [email protected].

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