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TribBlog: Immigration Enforcement Program Expands Statewide

Secure Communities, a controversial government program that identifies immigrants in custody in local jails, is now active in every county in Texas, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced today.

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A controversial Department of Homeland Security program that identifies immigrants in local jails now operates in every Texas county.

Through the Secure Communities program, administered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, local law enforcement compares the fingerprints of anyone arrested against those in a DHS database to determine if the individual can be removed under immigration laws. Statewide participation in Secure Communities means the program has more than tripled since June, when 66 Texas counties used the system. The agency’s ultimate goal is to have nationwide participation by 2013.

In a statement released today, ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton said, “The move improves public safety by enabling ICE to prevent the release of convicted criminal aliens back into our communities when they complete their sentences."

Critics have alleged that the program could lead to racial profiling if police begin to target minority-majority neighborhoods. ICE officials have said that's not a concern, however, because every person arrested is fingerprinted, and not just those whom officers suspect of being in the country illegally. ICE also maintains that the effort targets major offenders who commit “level 1” offenses for deportation first. Those offenses include homicide, kidnapping, assault, robbery, sex offenses and narcotics crimes that carry a sentence of greater than one year.

Data obtained by The Texas Tribune showed that since Texas joined the program in October 2008, through June of this year, it had submitted 494,445 sets of fingerprints to DHS for tracing, leading to 10,837 aliens being arrested or booked into ICE custody. According to ICE statistics at that time, 8,596 had been deported. Of those, just 2,113 — fewer than 25 percent — were convicted of level 1 offenses, compared to 5,147, or 60 percent, who were convicted or charged with level 2 offenses.

According to Morton, participation in the program comes at “little or no cost” to law enforcement partners.

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