Arundel To Use Fingerprints To Identify Illegal Immigrants Charged In Crimes

… Program uses federal database for identification …

By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

7:25 PM EST, December 29, 2010

Anne Arundel County joined a federal program this week that is aimed at helping identify illegal immigrants who have been arrested and accused of other crimes.

The program employs fingerprint identification using federal databases, and officials say it will be implemented nationwide by 2013.

The program, called Secure Communities, was started under the George W. Bush administration but has become a priority in the Obama administration’s enforcement efforts for illegal immigration. With the help of local law enforcement authorities and jails, the ability to quickly identify illegal immigrants who have committed crimes or are accused of committing them is improved under the program, supporters say.

In Arundel, fingerprints taken at booking will go into a wider Homeland Security database. Potential matches will be identified within hours, said Terry Kokolis, superintendent of the county jail.

When there is a match, immigration officials are notified and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement generally moves to have the person detained by local authorities. After the defendant’s court case or incarceration ends, he is held for ICE. At that point, ICE may pick him up and begin deportation proceedings.

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold said Secure Communities appeals to him in part because it is based on fingerprints. “Fingerprints don’t lie,” he said.

County officials say the reliance on technology reduces the possibility of human error and could cut down on accusations of profiling by law enforcement.

But critics, including Kim Propeack, director of community organizing and political action for Casa de Maryland, say that while the program can help rid communities of violent criminals, it also is flawed and has led immigrants elsewhere — legal and illegal — to think that police are stopping them on another pretext because the officer suspects they are in the country illegally.

They say the program is sweeping up many immigrants whose criminal cases are dropped or who are convicted of minor charges, though Leopold countered that “so-called nuisance crimes become a breeding ground for other crimes.”

Immigrant advocates in the county say a program with the potential to increase deportations creates problems of its own, including spending thousands of dollars to deport people who are in the country illegally. Immigrants who are victims of or witnesses to crime may be afraid to come forward as a result of the program, for fear of being deported.

“It’s just a chilling factor,” said Bob Feldmann, an outreach coordinator with OHLA, the Organization of Hispanic and Latin Americans of Anne Arundel County Inc., an immigrant aid group.

Part of the problem, he said, is that many immigrants — legal or not — live in fear of deportation and don’t understand immigration law.

Capt. Randy Jones Sr., commander of special enforcement in the county Police Department, said that a lack of a fingerprint match in a federal database does not necessarily mean the person is in the country illegally, but only that the person’s prints are not in the database.

But “that’s the beginning of your record. If you provide a different name next time, we have fingerprints to show it,” he said. And fingerprints will turn up every photo taken of that person in the government database. “It’s going to catch the people that are using multiple aliases,” he said.

Copyright © 2010, The Baltimore Sun

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