With a new fingerprint sharing program to determine the immigration status of suspects set to start today, May 15, federal immigration authorities are taking steps that would mitigate concerns.
The Secure Communities program, which Massachusetts officials preparing to start today, May 15, will have local law enforcement officers run fingerprints of suspects through federal databases to determine whether a suspect is in the country illegally.
ICE spokesman Ross Feinstein said the agency's policy is confirm the program's start only after it is actually launched.
As it prepares to roll out the program, ICE has taken the following steps to improve its implementation, according to a federal immigration official.
- ICE plans to help protect witnesses and victims of domestic violence and other violent crimes. The policy comes after concerns that immigrants would avoid reporting such crimes out of fear they would be deported.
- Also, ICE plans to focus the program on illegal immigrants convicted of serious crimes, including murder and rape and individuals who pose a threat to national security.
- ICE also plans to delayed detaining illegal immigrants suspected of minor motor vehicle offenses until they are convicted.
- ICE also plans to train local law enforcement officers on how to implement the program in accordance with civil rights laws.
- ICE will expand outreach to police and other officials to better educate them on the program.
At a meeting at Mass Bay Community College in March 2011, Megan Christopher, an attorney at MetroWest Legal Services, spoke about how if enacted the new federal program could break the trust between the community and the police.
“When we make so that the victim have a greater difficulty in reaching out for help, we create a small, tight, isolated community of people who are easily victimized,” said Christopher. “Slum lords, bad employers, abusers of all kind, can practically find by a zip code people who cannot stand up for themselves.”
It is already active in Boston. New Hampshire, Rhode Island and overall 2,792 jurisdictions in 48 states are using it, according to a federal immigration official. Nationwide activation will be complete by the end of 2013.
More than 135,000 people have been deported as a result of the program and 49,000 of those were convicted of serious crimes, according to a federal immigration official.
But at that March 2011 meeting, Sarang Sekhavat, policy director for the Massachusetts Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, who spoke on behalf of 900,000 immigrants across the country, said "This program is not doing what was supposed to be doing. Of those arrested and deported by a pilot program, which started in Boston in 2008, 53 percent were non-criminal immigrants, only about 25 percent were what the government calls criminals."
The federally-mandated program is an added step on the federal level as far as what happens to fingerprints after someone commits a crime. Before Tuesday, local law enforcement was required to forward all finger prints to the FBI. Starting today in Massachusetts and New York, the FBI will send those fingerprints to the Department of Homeland Security, where they will be screen.