ID criminals among illegal immigrants

Gov. Bill Ritter is taking his time — gathering more information from a variety of groups — before deciding whether to have Colorado join a federal program to identify illegal immigrants based on fingerprints recorded upon arrest.

He shouldn’t delay any longer. The program is a sound means of detecting illegal immigrants who commit serious crimes, then getting them deported. It is not some authoritarian assault on human rights, as opponents of the program would have people believe.

The program is called Secure Communities and it was initiated in 2007. Under its auspices, anyone booked into the jail of a participating community has his or her fingerprints run against the FBI and Department of Homeland Security databases. It searches for records of those who are in this country illegally and those with previous criminal records or other violations.

According to The New York Times, some 3 million people have been screened under the program since 2008. Of those, 39,000 were identified as illegal immigrants with previous arrests or convictions for violent crimes such as rape, murder and assault. Another 205,000 were found to have less-serious criminal records. Some 480 jurisdictions in 27 states have joined Secure Communities, the Times reported. Why wouldn’t Colorado want to be among them?

The major reason is that immigrant advocacy groups worry that it could lead to racial profiling and that it will make immigrants less likely to work with law enforcement to report crimes. They also argue that of the 47,000 people deported to date, many were guilty of only minor crimes. A few didn’t have criminal records.

The first argument has little basis. Secure Communities is nothing like the Arizona immigration law, large portions of which were blocked by a federal judge last month. As it was originally written, that law would have encouraged police to stop and question people simply based on how they look. A rewrite of the law is better, but many still fear it will encourage profiling of Hispanics.

Secure Communities, in contrast, simply allows police to check fingerprint images — which they would get anyway upon arresting somebody — and check the images against federal databases.

It’s possible the program could discourage someone from reporting domestic violence if they knew their spouse had a criminal record and was in this country illegally. But it’s unlikely that person would go to the police, even without Secure Communities.

And, as ICE officials have noted, even those with records for lesser crimes are still criminals who should be deported.

Those on the other side of the issue, people who believe President Barack Obama is doing little or nothing regarding illegal immigrants, should be aware of this fact: the Obama administration deported more than three times as many immigrants — 387,000 in his first year in office — as President George W. Bush did during his first year, according Immigration and Customs Enforcement figures cited in Harpers magazine.

One reason is the Secure Communities program, which was established under the Bush administration and is being pushed even harder under Obama.

The U.S. State Department is seeking congressional authority to begin requiring fingerprints for U.S. citizens who want passports. Why shouldn’t we use the same technology to track people who are in this country illegally and have criminal records?

Gov. Ritter should sign the agreement to have Colorado join the Secure Communities program immediately.


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