Controversial fingerprints program set for New York meets resistance
A program that gives federal immigration officials access to the fingerprints of undocumented immigrants booked into local jails will start Tuesday across New York state despite staunch opposition from advocates and lawmakers, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
A law-enforcement official familiar with the program, called Secure Communities, confirmed that New York City and 30 other jurisdictions would join the 31 communities that already have the program in place. Suffolk, Nassau and Westchester counties, among others, have participated in Secure Communities for more than a year.
Asked about the program at a Friday news conference, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said “we prefer that they not do that here.”
“The federal government’s position is that it’s required under the law and they’re doing it,” he continued. “We’re obviously complying. They’re taking it automatically, actually. It’s a policy decision. I think there’s merit on both sides….We’re complying to the extent that we have to.”
Secure Communities aims at identifying and deporting illegal immigrants who are convicted of crimes. But critics say it has resulted in the deportation of thousands of people who are accused of crimes but not convicted, and erodes the trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement.
Advocates and others argue that some immigrants may become hesitant to report crimes or act as witnesses, incorrectly believing they risk deportation just by speaking with police.
Already, the fingerprints of suspects in jail are sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Under the Secure Communities program, those fingerprints are also shared with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In an email, ICE spokesman Ross Feinstein said Secure Communities “has proven to be the single most valuable tool in allowing the agency to eliminate the ad hoc approach of the past and focus on criminal aliens and repeat immigration law violators.”
“To date, Secure Communities has helped ICE remove more than 135,000 convicted criminal aliens, including more than 49,000 convicted of major violent offenses like murder, rape and the sexual abuse of children,” he said.
The news of the program’s launch startled lawmakers and immigration advocates who nearly a year ago hailed Cuomo’s announcement that he was suspending the state’s participation in Secure Communities. At the time, agreements signed with each state suggested that joining the program was voluntary.