Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Local Police Must Join Fingerprint Plan to Spot Illegal Immigrants - NYTimes.com

Local Police Must Join Fingerprint Plan to Spot Illegal Immigrants - NYTimes.com

In 2008, the Bush administration announced an ambitious new program to help federal officials detain and deport illegal immigrants held on criminal charges by using fingerprints collected by local police departments.

But two years later, as the program is being put into effect state by state, confusion abounds in New York and elsewhere, among officials and immigrant advocates alike, about how it works and whether local participation is required.

Several counties around the nation have voted to opt out of the program, called Secure Communities, because of concerns that it could ensnare immigrants who have committed low-level offenses or chill crime-fighting cooperation between immigrants and the police.

“The Department of Homeland Security has done a horrible job of, one, explaining the policy; two, explaining the implementation process; and three, explaining the local jurisdictional role,” said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition

More than 750 jurisdictions in 34 states have already joined the program, which has contributed to a surge in deportations over the last year.

Though states can refuse to cooperate, there is a cost: Any state that declines to share fingerprints with the Justice Department will in turn lose access to the criminal databases of other states and the federal government, seriously hampering crime-fighting efforts.

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