U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has touted an 18-month-old program under which county jails forward suspects' fingerprints to Homeland Security as a key tool in quickly identifying dangerous foreign criminals.
But internal ICE documents released Tuesday by immigrant and civil rights activists contradict the agency's claim, according to an analysis of the documents by the advocates which include the respected Center for Constitutional Rights and the immigration justice clinic at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, both in New York City.
Release of the documents is the latest salvo by immigrant rights advocates who believe ICE has become a rogue agency bent on undermining civil rights and President Obama's stated policy of focusing on dangerous foreign criminals first. The documents outline the work of the ICE booking center program known as Secure Communities.
Suspects booked at a county jail linked to the program have their fingeprints shared with several agencies including Homeland Security. If ICE, a Homeland Security agency, is interested in one of the foreign suspects, it lodges an immigration "detainer" or hold so the suspect cannot be immediately released. Before Secure Communities, immigration authorities relied on jail officials to alert them about foreign nationals in local jails or periodically checked local jail records themselves.
ICE says Secure Communities assists the agency in quickly identifying dangerous foreign criminals so they can be placed in deportation proceedings before being released on bail or their own recognizance.
The agency did not dispute the activists's findings. But ICE reiterated its belief that Secure Communities is crucial to shielding U.S. communities from dangerous foreign criminals.
"Secure Communities gives ICE the ability to work with our state and local law enforcement partners to identify criminal aliens who are already in their custody, expediting their removal and keeping our communities safer, part of the Department's overall focus on identifying and removing convicted criminal aliens who pose a threat to public safety," said ICE spokesman Temple Black.
To date, he added, the program has identified more than 262,900 foreign nationals in jails and prisons who have been charged with or convicted of criminal offenses, including more than 39,000 charged with or convicted of major violent or drug offenses. Black said the program led to the deportation of more than 34,600 convicted criminal foreigners, including more than 9,800 convicted of major violent or drug offenses.
The analysis of the documents by the activists, however, says that the majority or 79 percent of people deported in connection to Secure Communities were non-criminals or had been picked up by local police for relatively minor offenses including traffic violations or petty juvenile mischief.