Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dallas County Jail checking each inmate's immigration status (Ft. Worth Star-Telegram)

Dallas County Jail checking each inmate's immigration status

Posted on Thu, Nov. 13, 2008

All Dallas County Jail inmates will have their fingerprints run through a massive federal database to identify immigrants who can be deported.

The jail, one of only seven nationwide to participate in the Secure Communities program, began running fingerprints through the immigration database Wednesday.

Last month, Harris County joined the program, which is run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Harris and Dallas are the only participating Texas counties. North Carolina has four counties taking part, and Massachusetts has one.

ICE wants to offer the Secure Communities program in every state by spring.

The new database link automatically checks the criminal and immigration history of all Dallas County Jail inmates, said Pablo Campos, ICE assistant field office director in Dallas.

The database contains 90 million names, including those of immigrants who have been arrested before and those who have been deported. Also listed in the database are would-be immigrants who have had their visa applications rejected.

The Secure Communities program also searches for legal immigrants who became eligible for deportation because they were convicted of certain crimes.

The program is the latest development in the federal government’s increasing number of deportations. Many of them have come from the Criminal Alien Program, or CAP, in which ICE checks the backgrounds of inmates suspected by local jail officials of being illegal immigrants.

The Irving and Farmers Branch jails have implemented the Criminal Alien Program.

ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok said Secure Communities is "like CAP on steroids" because it does a background check on every inmate and taps into such a massive database.

ICE officials will continue to put the highest priority on immigrants who have committed crimes, especially serious crimes, Campos said. Illegal immigrants arrested for minor crimes will have the least priority, but all illegal immigrants identified in local jails are being deported, he said.

Kim Leach, spokeswoman for the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department, said the new initiative grew out of ICE having a full-time officer working in the Dallas County Jail, looking for deportable immigrants, since 2006.

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