Friday, June 3, 2011

More Oklahoma counties using federal immigration fingerprint program (The Oklahoman)

More Oklahoma counties using federal immigration fingerprint program
In the past month, eleven Oklahoma counties have signed on to the Secure Communities immigration enforcement program. In all, 48 Oklahoma jurisdictions send fingerprint data to be compared against immigration databases.

Published: June 3, 2011

More than a dozen Oklahoma jails have recently started using fingerprints to check immigration status, adding to the growing number of jails trying to weed illegal immigrants out of their system.

In the past month, Adair, Delaware, Mayes, Noble, Ottawa, Choctaw, Cotton, Haskell, Jefferson, Le Flore and Marshall counties have signed up to use the Secure Communities program. In all, 48 Oklahoma jurisdictions send fingerprint information to be compared against the federal immigration databases.

Nationwide, 1,331 jurisdictions in 42 states are a part of the program, records show.

Many Oklahoma officials said Secure Communities doesn’t add to their workload, and helps clear bed space by removing undocumented immigrants from oftentimes overcrowded jails.

However, Secure Communities has been criticized by think tanks and research organizations like the Immigration Policy Institute, the Migration Policy Institute and the Urban Institute for casting a broad net and not focusing on what federal officials have deemed top-priority, criminal offenders like rapists, murderers and other felons.

They also criticize the program for having little oversight and the inability of local agencies to opt out of the program.
Noble County jail administrator Lee Mallin said the few undocumented immigrants booked into the 48-bed jail are usually traveling Interstate 35.

“Things are running the way they always have,” Mallin said. “We’re still fingerprinting and then sending the fingerprints.”

During the typical booking process, the person’s fingerprints are sent to check against law enforcement databases. Now, the process includes a cross check against federal immigration records.

When a match is found, the jail is notified.

If still in custody, the individual would be held until immigration officials arranged a transfer, Mallin said.

Oklahoma and Tulsa counties in 2009 were the first to use it.

Nearly 30 counties followed in 2010.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement data shows that since 2009, more than 80,000 fingerprints from Oklahoma have been submitted.

Those matches have resulted in 781 deportations. Of those deportations, nearly 40 percent were for noncriminal offenses.
Nearly 60 percent had been convicted of crimes ranging from felonies to misdemeanor offenses.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Carl Rusnok said the immigration databases include people who’ve been in contact with immigration enforcement or have sought services like visitor visas.

“From there we can boil it down to identify the people in the country illegally and those who have a criminal history,” Rusnok said.

Rusnok said federal officials anticipate that by 2013 all jurisdictions nationwide will utilize the program.

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