MIAMI Fla June 30 2010 — Local law enforcement officers throughout Florida now can access U.S. immigration records to check the fingerprints of immigrants in their custody, officials said Tuesday.
The system is part of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s “Secure Communities” program to improve and modernize the identification and removal of illegal immigrants who have been convicted of crimes in the U.S.
Including Florida, 23 states now participate in the program. The agency plans to make the system available nationwide by 2013.
Before the system was activated in Florida, fingerprints taken at local jails were checked only against FBI criminal records.
Now fingerprints also will be checked against immigration records maintained by the Department of Homeland Security. Immigration authorities will be alerted automatically if there’s a match.
Within about four hours, authorities will begin to determine whether an individual in police custody is subject to deportation. If so, ICE will monitor the case. Illegal immigrants charged with major drug offenses, murder, rape or kidnapping will be flagged as priority cases.
If the person is convicted, ICE will assume custody when the prison sentence is complete.
Since fingerprints are unique, the system helps identify illegal immigrants who give authorities fake names, said Michael Meade, director of ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations in Miami. It also catches people who have been deported previously.
“This initiative ensures that our local law enforcement partners know as much as possible about the people in their custody,” Meade said.
It also lowers the cost and risks of pursuing these illegal immigrants on the streets, he said.
“We’ll identify the worst of the worst while they’re in jail,” Meade said. “The less that my officers have to go to somebody’s house to look for them, the safer they are.”
The system has been activated in 24 Florida counties since last year, and the rest of the state’s 67 counties were added last week.
One example authorities cited Tuesday was the case of a man arrested in Hillsborough County for carrying a concealed weapon, resisting an officer and providing a false name to law enforcement. Despite a long list of aliases, fingerprint records from Homeland Security showed that the man had overstayed a tourist visa and was wanted for attempting to murder a police officer.
The man was convicted in December on the concealed weapon charge and will be deported at the end of his yearlong prison sentence, authorities said.
The expanded fingerprint search was an overdue improvement to communications between local detention officers and ICE, said Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Col. Jim Previtera.
The new system does not change current police procedures, nor does it cost more money, said Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey.
More than 1,800 immigrants convicted of crimes have been deported from Florida so far. Most were convicted of serious drug charges, assault, battery, murder, rape and kidnapping, authorities said.
Since ICE began sharing fingerprint information with local law enforcement officers in October 2008, the U.S. has deported more than 8,500 immigrants convicted of crimes such as murder, rape and kidnapping. More than 22,200 additional immigrants convicted of crimes such as burglary and serious property crimes also have been deported.