More Ohio police tap immigration database
July 5, 2010 · Print This Article
The Associated Press
CINCINNATI – More Ohio law enforcement agencies are joining a federal program that checks the immigration status of anyone arrested or booked for a misdemeanor or felony, which critics say could become an incentive for police to engage in racial profiling.
The system known as Secure Communities does more than just check fingerprints against criminal records. It also allows local police to check against immigration records maintained by the Department of Homeland Security.
“It is technology at its best,” said Butler County Sheriff Rick Jones, who has frequently complained about a lack of federal resources to adequately police his region’s ballooning immigrant population north of Cincinnati.
Because local law officers are making arrests, it only makes sense for them to access immigration records, said Jones, whose county adopted the system a few weeks ago. The system is intended to let police know exactly whom they have in custody so that they don’t inadvertently let a dangerous criminal back on the streets.
Officials in Cuyahoga County and Franklin County started using the database in January. It will be adopted in Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati, later this year.
It is already in use in more than 400 jails in 24 states, including Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida and Louisiana.
Critics say the system could become an incentive for some local police agencies to arrest immigrants on minor offenses simply to run them through the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement database to see if they are in the country illegally and try to have them deported.
Scott Greenwood, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, said using the database is similar to Arizona’s controversial new immigration enforcement law, which requires police there to ask people about their immigration status in certain situations.
The database also will force local law enforcement into asking about immigration status, Greenwood said.
“They aren’t going to ask people with flat Midwestern accents, they will ask people who don’t have an obvious command of English and whose skin is brown,” he said. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has not received any complaints of racial profiling, spokesman Richard Rocha said.
From late October 2008 through early May, about 240,000 criminal aliens have been identified through the Secure Communities database, Rocha said. Of the criminals identified by the database, nearly 31,000 have been deported or removed from the United States. The rest are either awaiting trial or still serving time in jail in the U.S., or ICE has determined that they cannot be removed from the country because they have become naturalized citizens or they are in the country legally and their crime was not sufficient to deport them.
Of those already removed, Rocha said, 8,584 were convicted of Level 1 crimes, which include murder, kidnapping, sexual assault and robbery.
Congress has supported the program by appropriating $550 million for the database from fiscal years 2008 through 2010, Rocha said.