ATLANTA, Ga. -- Fingerprints are playing an increasing role in immigration enforcement.
As of Tuesday, the fingerprints of everyone booked into jail by all 159 Georgia Sheriffs, every day, are being turned over to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.
It's one more way for the feds to catch and deport illegal immigrants.
Supporters say you can't argue with the numbers. They say the increased numbers of deportations resulting from the fingerprint information prove the value of using fingerprints to check the immigration status of everyone who is arrested.
The program has been phasing in, in Georgia, since Nov. 17, 2009, when the Sheriffs of Clayton, DeKalb and Gwinnett Counties became the first in the state to participate in the nationwide "Secure Communities" ICE program.
Other Sheriffs signed on during the next two years, culminating in all 159 of them joining the program as of Dec. 6.
On Thursday, Vincent Picard, the Southern Region Communications Director/Spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in Atlanta, told 11Alive's Jon Shirek that so far, in Georgia, the fingerprints have led to the deportation of 4,289 illegal immigrants who, at the time they were arrested in Georgia for various offenses, already had long rap sheets in Georgia and/or other states.
And 817 of them, 19 percent of them, were "Level One" convicted criminals, the worst of the worst -- convicted murderers, rapists, child molesters.
Nationwide, Picard said, the program, so far, has resulted in an 89 percent increase in the deportations of convicted criminals who were in the U.S. illegally.
But, Picard said, there has been a corresponding, 29 percent decrease in the deportations illegal immigrants who do not have criminal records.
"It shows that we are focusing our limited resources on getting violent criminals out of the U.S.," Picard said.
Now that all Georgia Sheriffs are participating in the fingerprint-sharing program, Picard expects that the deportations of those with criminal records will continue to increase.
There are critics of the program.
Jerry Gonzalez, the Executive Director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, pointed out that even the most conservative, anti-immigration political leaders make a distinction between 1) violent illegal immigrants, and 2) most everyone else -- those who are otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants.
Gonzalez said people who are living here illegally but peacefully are increasingly afraid that they will be fingerprinted simply for coming forward to report crimes in their neighborhoods.
"People who commit serious crimes need to be deported," he said. "However, the immigrant community will be reluctant to report crimes or suspicious activity, and that decreases public safety for everyone. We need the immigrant community to feel comfortable to call 911."
Gonzalez said the neighborhood police officers are being seen, increasingly, as federal immigration agents, hindering them from doing their jobs in local policing.
Gonzalez and others say that that politicians, who have not been able to figure out what to do with peaceful illegal immigrants in the U.S., should not be relying on this fingerprint-sharing program to round them up along with those who are violent -- and Gonzalez insists that "innocent" undocumented residents are being rounded up despite the official statement that fewer of them are being deported under the program.
As it is, the program is expected to be deployed nationwide by 2013.
Here is the statement that Vincent Picard of ICE in Atlanta emailed to 11Alive News on Thursday. And, on the video, are Jerry Gonzalez's comments, which he gave to 11Alive News as he was arriving at the airport Thursday evening from an out-of-town conference.
Vincent Picard, ICE/Atlanta:
Secure Communities promotes the agency's top enforcement priority of finding and removing those who are unlawfully present, or otherwise removable and have criminal convictions, by relying on an already-existing federal information-sharing program, consisting of the sharing of biometric data between two federal law enforcement agencies -- DHS (Department of Homeland Security) and the FBI. Once a state or local law enforcement agency submits fingerprint data to the federal government, no agreement with the state is legally necessary for one part of the federal government to share it with another part.
Secure Communities has demonstrated its effectiveness in transforming immigration enforcement to a focus on criminal offenders. To date, more than 110,000 convicted criminal aliens (nationwide) were removed after an identification through Secure Communities, including more than 39,000 convicted of major violent offenses like murder, rape and the sexual abuse of children. Approximately 94% of the total Secure Communities removals fall within ICE's civil enforcement priorities including convicted criminals, recent illegal border entrants and those who game the immigration system: immigration fugitives and repeat immigration law violators such as individuals who illegally re-enter the country after having been removed, a federal felony offense.
ICE continues to work with its law enforcement partners across the country to responsibly and effectively implement this federal information sharing capability and plans to reach complete nationwide activation by the end of 2013. The scheduled nationwide deployment by 2013 is to ensure that ICE has the resources and necessary infrastructure in place to support this initiative."
As of Dec. 8, ICE is currently using Secure Communities in 1,882 jurisdictions in 43 states and Puerto Rico. Secure Communities has been fully implemented in 21 states, including Georgia, and one U.S. territory (Puerto Rico).
On Dec. 6, statewide activation of this enhanced federal information sharing capability in all 159 counties in Georgia was activated.
Since ICE implemented Secure Communities in Oct. 2008 through Oct. 31, 2011, ICE has removed 149,841 persons including a total of 110,044 criminal aliens. Of the total 110,044 criminal aliens removed, 39,578 were level 1 offenders convicted of aggravated felonies like murder, rape and the sexual abuse of children; 24,235 level 2s were removed; and 46,231 level 3s were removed.
Level 1 offenders are criminal aliens convicted of serious crimes, such as homicide, rape, drug trafficking, threats to national security and other "aggravated felonies" as described in § 101(a)(43) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Also, Level 1 offenders include criminal aliens convicted of two or more felonies.
Level 2 criminals have been convicted of a single felony, such as a property crime or extortion. Also, level 2 offenders include criminal aliens convicted of three or more misdemeanors.
Level 3 criminals have been convicted of misdemeanors such as DUI and drug offenses.
The Sept. 30, 2011 removals include those where a criminal conviction was not on record but had been removed following a criminal arrest. Of that group, 26,673 had been previously removed or returned from the United States; 4,460 were ICE fugitives; and 8,664 were individuals who entered the country without inspection, were visa violators, or were overstays.
Under Secure Communities, state and local law enforcement officers continue enforcing their state or local law in the same manner in which they always have. Under Secure Communities, state and local law enforcement officers are not deputized, do not enforce immigration law, and are not tasked with any additional responsibilities. In fact, State and local law enforcement officers are asked to enforce the law in exactly the same manner as they did before Secure Communities was activated in their jurisdiction. In this program, only federal officers make immigration decisions, and they do so only after a completely independent decision by state and local law enforcement to arrest an individual for a criminal violation of state law separate and apart from any violations of immigration law.
For more information and statistics about Secure Communities, including for statistics specific to Georgia, please see: