JUNE 19, 2009
Nearly 1,000 illegal immigrants with serious criminal convictions and thousands more in the country illegally have been identified in Florida thanks to a new program that allows local law enforcement agencies to check arrestees’ immigration status.
Launched this year, the program permits local police departments in the Sunshine State—and nationwide—to compare booking fingerprints against two separate federal databases operated by the Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s immigration division.
Previously, local law enforcement agencies could only compare fingerprints to the Justice Department’s database. Under a new program called Secure Communities they can also use the immigration fingerprints and the access has greatly enhanced local officials’ ability to identify and deport criminal aliens.
Nine Florida counties use the updated system, which provides biometrics based immigration history information about inmates. When a locally run fingerprint matches one in the Homeland Security biometric system, an automated process notifies Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the county jail that submitted the fingerprint.
When the illegal alien offenders complete their prison terms, immigration officials deport them. In the past, criminals were simply released after completing their sentence and many committed more crimes, including murder, rape, child molestation and drunken driving.
Besides Florida, many states have effectively used Secure Communities to identify dangerous criminals—mostly violent gang members—in the U.S. illegally. Immigration authorities plan to make the program available to all 1,200 of the nation’s state and federal prisons and more than 3,000 local jails in the next few years.
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