The Union County sheriff's office, along with seven other N.C. county law enforcement agencies, have joined the newest federal program that identifies illegal immigrants in the jails.
Secure Communities is a fingerprint-based immigration screening program that gives local law enforcement access to FBI and immigration databases simultaneously. If an inmate is found to be in the country illegally, immigration officials are automatically alerted.
“Fingerprints don’t lie,” said Barbara Gonzalez, spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “If their fingerprints are in the system showing they’re illegally in the country, and they say they’re legal, we know they’re lying. We’ve caught people saying that.”
The program is already operating in 21 N.C. counties, including Mecklenburg, Gaston, Cabarrus and Catawba. More than 104 illegal immigrants have been deported from Mecklenburg County using Secure Communities since the county implemented the program in October 2009, according to ICE.
Secure Communities has been introduced in the midst of controversy over civil liberties issue surroundings its predecessor, 287(g), which gives local law enforcement officers the ability to place illegal immigrants into deportation proceedings.
In Mecklenburg County, more than 8,000 illegal immigrants have been placed into deportation proceedings using the 287(g) program.
Supporters say the program is a valuable tool to protect the community and helps identify the criminal histories of people here illegally.
Critics however say 287(g) targets minor offenders. A UNC Chapel Hill report released last month, found that nearly a third of immigrants flagged for deportation from N.C. jails were arrested on traffic violations.
Latino advocates have described Secure Communities as 287(g)’s little brother. They say the federal government’s continued reliance on local agencies for immigration enforcement shows the need for comprehensive immigration reform.
Gonzalez said Secure Communities prioritizes those arrested on serious offenses, such as murder, rape, and kidnapping. She did not say minor offenders would be released.
In addition to Union County, Secure Communities was recently launched in Brunswick, Columbus, Dare, Halifax, Jackson, Lee and Transylvania counties.
Photo: Catawba County deputy Brian Helms operates fingerprint-based immigration screening program designed to nab illegal immigrants. JEFF WILLHELM - firstname.lastname@example.org