MARIETTA – Immigration and Customs Enforcement has apparently declined a request by U.S. Reps. Phil Gingrey (R-Marietta), Tom Price (R-Roswell) and others to expedite the expansion in Georgia of a federal program that would transform the way illegal immigrants are identified and removed from the country.
“I’m disappointed because Georgia has the sixth largest population of illegal immigrants and a pretty darn high crime rate,” Gingrey said.
Anti-illegal immigration activist D.A. King of Marietta said he asked the congressmen to request ICE to speed up the program’s rollout in Georgia, a request they made to ICE officials in an Oct. 13 letter. But in a Nov. 17 response to Gingrey, Elliot Williams, ICE’s assistant director for congressional relations, indicates that ICE will not speed up the implementation of the fingerprinting program called Secure Communities.
Secure Communities modernizes the identification and removal process by using fingerprint-based biometric identification technology, prioritizing resources toward the greatest threats, such as the severity of the crime, and sharing information between law enforcement partners.
Started under the Bush Administration, the program is currently active in only eight Georgia counties – Cobb, Clayton, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Fulton, Muscogee, Hall and Whitfield. ICE notified the Cobb Sheriff’s Office in September that it would become involved in the program, Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Nancy Bodiford said.
Williams says in his letter that it won’t be until Fiscal Year 2011 that 48 of the 151 remaining counties in Georgia are activated and not until FY 2013 that the remaining counties will use the program.
“When considering when and where to deploy Secure Communities, in addition to considering high-risk jurisdictions, ICE must also consider its operational capacity,” Williams writes.
King said the reason for the delay is obviously due to ICE not being able to handle all the illegal immigrants it would find by an immediate rollout of the program.
“If you read between the lines, what they’re saying is they don’t know that they have the capacity of handling all the illegal aliens that they’d find because they’d have to house these people if they get them,” King said.
King said he was grateful to the congressmen for their efforts, but dismayed by the Obama Administration’s apparent failure to expedite a program that is already fully used in such states as Arizona.
“This is a detriment to public safety in Georgia,” King said. “It’s difficult to tell how many jobs it will cost or potentially how many American lives it will cost.”
Gingrey pointed to Hawaii, which has a population of illegal immigrants estimated at 10,000 compared to Georgia’s estimated 400,000 illegals, and yet Hawaii is using the program in its entirety, he said. Gingrey wondered why the federal government didn’t borrow the advice from bank robber Willie Sutton and “go where the money is.”
“We just don’t understand why it’s going to take so long to deploy this program nationwide,” Gingrey said. “…Even if you accept their explanation that they don’t have the manpower, why devote resources to an area with minimal need? Why don’t you go where the action is? I just think that’s too slow. They’re priorities on this are certainly not based where the problem is. To me, it seems a little boneheaded.”
Previously, biometrics-fingerprints taken of individuals charged with a crime and booked into custody were checked for criminal history information against the Department of Justice’s records. Now, through enhanced information sharing between the DOJ and the Department of Homeland Security, biometrics submitted through the state to the FBI are automatically checked against both the FBI criminal history records with the Department of Justice and the biometrics-based immigration records in Department of Homeland Security.
If fingerprints match those of someone in Department of Homeland Security’s database, the new automated process notifies ICE. ICE evaluates each case to determine the individual’s immigration status and takes appropriate enforcement action. This includes immigrants who are in lawful status and those who are present without lawful authority, according to its Web site. Once identified through fingerprint matching, ICE responds with a priority placed on immigrants convicted of the most serious crimes first, such as those with convictions for major drug offenses, murder, rape and kidnapping.
Since ICE began using the enhanced information sharing capability in October 2008, immigration officers have removed from the U.S. more than 50,600 immigrants convicted of a crime.
Cobb Sheriff Neil Warren said the Secure Communities program “is another resource that will enable our agency to accurately identify individuals booked into our facility. This initiative can help improve public safety by keeping dangerous offenders from being released in our community.”