Federal fingerprinting program leads to deportations in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties

Fingerprints taken from thousands arrested in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties have identified hundreds of illegal immigrants and resulted in their deportation.
BY VALLERY BROWN Published: October 11, 2010

Fingerprints taken from thousands of people arrested in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties have identified hundreds of illegal immigrants and resulted in their deportation.

Oklahoma and Tulsa counties last November implemented Secure Communities, a program that sends the fingerprints of individuals booked into jail for comparison with federal investigative and immigration databases. Since then, nearly 30,000 fingerprints have been submitted in both counties, according to data from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Most recent numbers show more than 1,200 hits for suspected immigration violations and 429 deportations.

Some in law enforcement praise the simplicity and ease of taking fingerprints to help identify the immigration violators. But others say the program opens the door to rights violations, is lacking transparency and oversight and isn't the tool it's been touted to be.

A recent report on the program by the Immigration Policy Center recommended all jurisdictions participating in the program receive adequate civil rights and illegal profiling training.

"This can't take the place of people trained in immigration enforcement," said Sgt. Shannon Clark, head of the federal immigration enforcement program in Tulsa County. Deputies there are trained to identify illegal immigrants and are able to detain them for suspected violations.

Clark said only people who come into contact with federal immigration or customs agents will have fingerprints in the immigration database. Many arrested in Oklahoma have entered and lived in the country without ever being detected by law enforcement or immigration officials.

"Determining alienage can't be done simply with a computer program," he said.

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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement levels of priority for removal and deportation under Secure Communities from highest priority to lowest:

Level 1: Noncitizens and illegal immigrants convicted of aggravated felonies or two or more felony crimes each punishable by more than one year in jail.

Level 2: Those convicted of any felony or three or more misdemeanor crimes each punishable by less than one year.

Level 3: Those convicted of crimes punishable by less than one year.

Deportations and Removals from November 2009 through September 2010:

Level 1: 66

Level 2: 168

Level 3: 25

Noncitizens deported or removed for noncriminal offenses: 170


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