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Immigration agency will expand fingerprint program

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By New York Times News Service
Published: May 12. 2012 4:00AM PST

Immigration and Customs Enforcement Obama administration officials have announced that a contentious fingerprinting program to identify illegal immigrants will be extended across Massachusetts and New York next week, expanding federal enforcement efforts despite opposition from the governors and immigrant groups in those states.

In blunt emails sent Tuesday to officials and the police in the two states, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials advised that the program, Secure Communities, would be activated “in all remaining jurisdictions” this Tuesday.

In June, Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts declined to sign an agreement with the immigration agency to expand Secure Communities beyond a pilot program in the Boston area since 2006. Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York said he wanted to suspend the program, which had been initiated in a number of counties.

Opponents argued that it was an overly wide dragnet that was deporting many illegal immigrants with no criminal histories who were arrested for minor offenses. They said the program encouraged racial profiling by the police and eroded trust in law enforcement among immigrants.

Under Secure Communities, fingerprints of anyone booked by the local or state police are sent through the FBI to be checked in databases of the Department of Homeland Security which include immigration records. If there is a match, officials at the immigration agency decide whether to issue a detainer, asking the police to hold the person to be picked up by federal agents.

ICE officials said that they made changes to respond to state officials’ concerns and to focus the program on deporting serious criminals.

They said they revised the detainers to clarify that suspected illegal immigrants could be held for only 48 hours. They provided civil rights training for the police in places where the program was started, officials said. A recent change in arrest procedures would decrease detentions of illegal immigrants stopped for speeding or driving without a license, the officials said.

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