In 2008, the Bush administration started Secure Communities, an ambitious program to help federal officials detain and deport illegal immigrants held on criminal charges by using fingerprints collected by local police. Two years later, says the New York Times, confusion abounds among officials and immigrant advocates over how it works and whether local participation is required. Some counties opted out of the program because of concerns that it could ensnare immigrants who have committed low-level offenses or chill crime-fighting cooperation between immigrants and the police.
Federal officials now say that participation was never voluntary. The program, they say, will be up and running nationwide by 2013. The confusion appears to be largely the fault of federal immigration officials, who in recent months have issued vaguely worded or seemingly contradictory statements about the program. “The Department of Homeland Security has done a horrible job of, one, explaining the policy; two, explaining the implementation process; and three, explaining the local jurisdictional role,” said Chung-Wha Hong of the New York Immigration Coalition, who has urged the state not to join the program. “It doesn't inspire confidence.” Under Secure Communities, the fingerprints of everyone booked into a local or county jail is sent to the Department of Homeland Security and compared with prints in the agency's databases. More than 750 jurisdictions in 34 states have joined.