Fingerprints taken from thousands of people arrested in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties have identified hundreds of illegal immigrants and resulted in their
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
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.
However, Maj. Jack Herron, Oklahoma County jail administrator, said the program has helped ease crowding in his packed jail.
The most recent data show the database identified 156 people with possible immigration violations from July 19 through Oct. 6. Interviews then conducted by federal agents resulted in 98 detained and taken away by immigration officers.
Herron said the jail books about 4,000 inmates per month.
Immigration officials say they prioritize their focus based on the severity of the crime allegedly committed.
Of the 429 deportations in the past year, 170 were noncriminal removals, meaning the individual was taken into custody for violations such as a traffic stop or charges weren't filed, said Carl Rusnok, spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The other 259 were taken into custody and later deported after committing a wide range of crimes.
"This isn't a panacea, but it's a tool we use," Rusnok said.
In a news conference earlier this week, U.S. Homeland Security Department Secretary Janet Napolitano announced authorities had removed more than 392,000 non-U.S. citizens during the 2010 fiscal year.
That includes 16,136 from North Texas and Oklahoma. Individual state-level deportations were not available from federal officials.
Napolitano said removal numbers are the highest on record. She attributed much of the success to Secure Communities. Currently, 660 jurisdictions in 33 states are a part of the Secure Communities program. A year ago, only 81 jurisdictions in nine states had the program.
Rusnok said the agency wants the program used nationwide by 2013.
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 SOURCE: U.S. IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT