Government Technology

Federal Fingerprint Sharing Program Meets Resistance

July 5, 2011 By

Can state and local governments opt out of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) controversial Secure Communities program? 

The question seems straightforward enough. Yet more than two years after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials launched the fingerprint-sharing program, some local government officials are still confused about their rights to opt out.

Secure Communities is an automated fingerprint data-sharing program between local law enforcement offices and federal immigration enforcement agencies. Despite recent DHS claims that the program is mandatory, many elected officials refuse to participate and continue to ask for an out. Most recently, Providence, R.I., Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare asked the federal government to excuse his city from the program. One month later, Pare told the Providence Journal that he was still waiting for a response.

Christopher Zimmerman, board chairman of Arlington County, Va., said the DHS “has had difficulty giving us straight answers. One official would say this is a voluntary program for local communities, while another was saying they were working to make it mandatory.”

Whether or not the program is eventually deemed successful at removing the most dangerous criminal aliens from the United States, the DHS has had trouble with the intergovernmental and public information aspect of rolling it out. ICE public information officials failed to respond to requests for more information by Government Technology’s deadline.

Internal DHS e-mails released in February 2011 following a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Center for Constitutional Rights and Cardozo Immigration Justice Clinic show disagreement within the agency about whether state and local governments could refuse to participate. And in a September 2010 letter to Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano described how local agencies could choose “not to be activated in the Secure Communities deployment plan.” Yet ICE officials later explained that communities could only opt out of receiving detained immigrant information from ICE, but not from sharing it. Since the program was launched in 2008, several U.S. communities with large immigrant populations, including Washington, D.C.; Arlington County; and Santa Clara, Calif.; have sought to opt out  fearing the program would be used to deport individuals with minor offenses, or none at all, and that it would involve local officials in immigration enforcement.
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Scot    |    Commented July 6, 2011

fearing the program would be used to deport individuals with minor offenses, Would the term Sanctuary City apply here? Or perhaps the fact that the local governments bear the costs for this unfunded mandate.

Carol    |    Commented July 13, 2011

Bottom line - if they're here legally, it shouldn't be a problem. If they're not here legally, then it's a crime - period. If someone has been dealing drugs for 10 years without being caught, then is busted in the 11th year, does our system say "well, you've been doing it so long now, without being caught, that we'll look the other way"? I have no argument with legal immigrants. None. Zip. Nada. My great-great-great grandparents immigrated here from Europe. Six of my favorite people are naturalized citizens - get it? They followed the rules, went through the agonizing, tedious, [unnecessarily] lengthy process, investing on average 10 years of their lives in becoming United States Citizens. To ignore illegal immigrants just because they're already here belittles, minimizes, and marginalizes my friends' efforts. I spent 15 years in law enforcement, both military and civilian. We were taught "selective enforcement" was to be avoided. And I know I signed up to defend the United States of America and her citizens - not her illegal aliens.

Carol    |    Commented July 13, 2011

one more question - if all the agencies are required to do is continue to submit fingerprint cards, as they always have, to the FBI, and the FBI is the agency doing the sharing with ICE, then how is this an additional cost/burden to the local agencies?

JB    |    Commented July 19, 2011

Amen Carol. Arlington County Board ... "said we want to see in writing that it is mandatory,”... ME TOO!!!

Denny Ernest    |    Commented August 1, 2011

Our country was designed with limited power for the federal Government and all power not specific to the Federal Gov. belongs to the states our Constiturion does not allow for a federal police force and yet the crooks have devised a number of them Marshals /Secret Service/ATF/FBI/IRS and the list goes on

MI    |    Commented December 8, 2011

There is a point where the Fed's power grab policies are put in it's place by We The People according to our Constitutional values, lawyer meddling notwithstanding. The alternative is our society becomes incrementally overtaken by those of insufficient mental & spiritual capacity to operate even their own lives, let alone a sovereign country.

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