Fingerprints Misused to Deport Immigrants?

A suspect, left, is fingerprinted by a Maricopa Country Sheriff's detention officer, July 26, 2010 to check his immigration status at a 287(g) processing station after being brought from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Fourth Avenue Jail in Phoenix. AP Photo

The United States removed or deported about 47,000 people after sifting through 3 million sets of fingerprints taken from bookings at local jails, according to government data obtained by immigration advocacy groups that have filed a lawsuit.

About one-quarter of those kicked out of the country did not have criminal records, the groups reported. They said they would release the data Tuesday, and provided early copies to The Associated Press.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement "has pulled a bait and switch, with local law enforcement spending more time and resources facilitating the deportations of bus boys and gardeners than murderers and rapists and at considerable cost to local community policing strategies, making us all less safe," said Peter Markowitz, director of the Immigration Justice Clinic at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York.

At issue is a fingerprint-sharing program known as Secure Communities that the government says is focused on getting rid of the "worst of the worst" criminal immigrants from the U.S. As of Aug. 3, 494 counties and local and state agencies in 27 states were sharing fingerprints from jail bookings through the program, which the Obama administration wants to be operating nationwide by 2013.

According to a mission statement on the ICE website: "The Secure Communities strategy has adopted a risk-based approach to prioritizing enforcement actions in order to maximize the impact on public safety. By assessing the risk each criminal alien poses to the public, ICE focuses immigration enforcement on the most dangerous criminal aliens first."

Immigration advocates say, however, that the government spends too much time
on lower-level criminals or non-criminals.

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Immigration and Customs Enforcement divides crimes into three categories, with Level 1 being the most serious. Most of those deported committed Level 2 or 3 crimes or were non-criminals, the monthly report of Secure Communities statistics shows.

Markowitz's clinic, the National Day Laborer Organizers Network and the Center for Constitutional Rights, had requested and sued for the statistics. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released some of the documents late Monday.

Richard Rocha, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman, said non-criminals still may be people who have failed to show up for deportation hearings, who recently crossed the border illegally or who re-entered the country after deportation. He also said it's important to remember that more people commit crimes that are considered Level 2 and 3.

Secure Communities is "a beneficial partnership tool for ICE and state and local law enforcement agencies helping to identify, prioritize and remove convicted criminal aliens not only from the communities, but also from the country," Rocha said.

From October 2008 through June of this year, 46,929 people identified through Secure Communities were removed from the U.S., the documents show. Of those, 12,293 were considered non-criminals.
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