Thursday, July 7, 2011

FBI joins effort to identify undocumented aliens (Miami Herald)

FBI joins effort to identify undocumented aliens
Advanced technology is being deployed and shared by federal agencies to identify immigrants who slipped into the U.S., according to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.


Posted on Thursday, 07.07.11

The FBI plays a role in a controversial, nationwide immigration-control program known as Secure Communities through which a Department of Homeland Security agency identifies foreign nationals booked at local jails, according to immigrant-rights activists who obtained internal documents from the Obama administration.

An analysis of the documents by the activists suggests that the immigration-control program, which operates in Florida, is part of a broader FBI initiative to collect personal information on arrested foreign nationals and U.S. citizens. Secure Communities is overseen by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The documents released by activists are the first public indication that the FBI is involved with Secure Communities, and indicate that information collected at booking centers is being compiled for the broader data-gathering project.

The groups that released the documents, obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, said the broader project is an FBI program dubbed Next Generation Identification, or NGI, that includes not only fingerprint matches but iris scans and facial-recognition technology.

“NGI is the next generation Big Brother,” said Jessica Karp of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, one of the groups that released the documents. “It’s a back-door route to a national ID, to be carried not in a wallet but within the body itself.”

The other groups involved in the documents’ release include the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Cardozo Law School Immigration Justice Clinic.

ICE referred calls to the FBI, and the FBI said it had no immediate comment. An FBI website contains details about the NGI program. It says NGI is an effort to speed the identification of wanted criminals, terrorism suspects, sex offenders and “other persons of special interest,” but the site does not mention Secure Communities.

However, one of the documents released by the groups, marked FBI-SC — possibly referring to Secure Communities — says that the ICE program “is simply the first of a number of biometric interoperability systems being brought on line by the . . . Next Generation Identification (NGI) initiative.”

Another document, a staff paper from the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services, says the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security worked to share information as a result of post-Sept. 11 congressional mandates.

As a result, the document said, the FBI and Homeland Security in 2008 signed an agreement to share database services. Secure Communities began as a pilot program in 2008.

After Secure Communities was established, immigrant-rights activists began voicing concerns that instead of leading to the identification of dangerous criminals and terrorists, the program was snaring an increasing number of noncriminal undocumented immigrants arrested for minor traffic violations.

Several states and jurisdictions, including New York and Illinois, have expressed their intent to withdraw from the program or not participate in it. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said in a statement last month that Secure Communities had failed to deport serious felons. Florida Gov. Rick Scott has not expressed objections to Secure Communities.

ICE insists that the program has been successful in deporting dangerous foreign criminals.

“Through April 30, 2011, more than 77,000 immigrants convicted of crimes, including more than 28,000 convicted of aggravated felony (level 1) offenses like murder, rape and the sexual abuse of children were removed from the United States after identification through Secure Communities,” ICE says on its Secure Communities website.

Also last month, ICE chief John Morton announced a series of reforms to Secure Communities intended to ensure that noncriminal undocumented immigrants are not the priority of the program.

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