3:45pm

Mon June 27, 2011
The Two-Way

Feds: States Can't Keep Fingerprints To Themselves

State and local law enforcement agencies cannot opt out of a federal program that uses the agencies' fingerprint samples to enforce U.S. immigration laws, according to federal officials.

One June 1, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an order that the state would no longer participate in the federal Secure Communities program; Illinois took the same step a month earlier.

But it's not that easy to opt out. An official from Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE, says that since Secure Communities, or S-Comm, is an arrangement between the FBI (which runs the fingerprint analysis) and the Department of Homeland Security (which contains ICE), state and local government has no say in how the shared information is used.

"Secure Communities is fundamentally an information sharing partnership between federal agencies," ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen told WNYC, adding, "state and local jurisdictions cannot opt out from the program."

The S-Comm program was instituted in 2008 under former President Bush.

In a report for WNYC, Mirela Iverac gives more details about why New York wants to opt out of the program:

Forty-five undocumented immigrants have been removed from the state since 31 counties in New York began participating in the program in January, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Of those removed, 80 percent had not been convicted of a crime.

Critics argue a large number of those who are not serious felons get ensnared in the program. According to ICE's statistics from October 2008 to April 2011, 29 percent of those deported were non-criminals, and 30 percent have committed low-level offenses.

The S-Comm deportation program has come under fire before. Just last week, the Department of Homeland Security promised to revise the program's policies — for instance, to protect victims of domestic violence. But civil rights advocates in California were among those who were unimpressed by the move, as the San Francisco Bay Guardian's Sarah Phelan reported.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.