Immigration officials now have access to the fingerprints of every person booked into jail in all 25 U.S. counties along the Mexican border, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced Tuesday, touting the program as a way of identifying and deporting “criminal aliens.” McClatchy Newspapers noted that Napolitano’s announcement came as immigrant-rights activists criticized the fingerprinting program, known as Secure Communities, after obtaining documents showing that more than one-quarter of those deported under its auspices had no criminal records.
The program “essentially co-opts police into doing the job of the federal government,” said Sunita Patel of the Center for Constitutional Rights, one of several groups that forced the disclosure of documents through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. That charge is baseless, DHS officials said. Secure Communities gives Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) the ability to check the fingerprints of those arrested against a database that will show whether they have ever been deported or otherwise had contact with immigration agents. If ICE determines that the person is in the country illegally, federal agents can institute deportation proceedings. Records show that happens in some cases, but not all.