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ICE program will automate immigration checks

April 24, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com

Fingerprints of people booked into the Washington County Detention Center will be checked automatically against federal immigration law enforcement records under a new system implemented this month by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The program, known as “Secure Communities,” will automate checks that Washington County previously ran manually, Sheriff Douglas W. Mullendore said.

Washington County is among 21 jurisdictions in Maryland and 1,188 jurisdictions in 41 states nationwide using the capability, ICE said in a press release.

“When an individual comes into the detention center, it basically determines if they are on the list as an illegal immigrant, and if they are, we notify ICE that we have them,” Mullendore said.

The fingerprints are checked against the Department of Homeland Security’s Automated Biometric Identification System, which includes, among other records, a watch list of criminals, immigration violators and known or suspected terrorists, ICE spokesman Ross Feinstein said.

Those people’s fingerprints would be in the system only if they have had previous encounters with ICE or other law enforcement agencies, Feinstein said. For example, people who have been removed from the country in the past and have re-entered would be caught through a fingerprint check against the Homeland Security system, he said.

Individuals flagged through the check will stay in Washington County to complete any criminal sentence here before potentially being picked up by ICE for a hearing before a federal magistrate, Mullendore said.

“When a match is discovered, ICE evaluates the specific case to determine the individual’s immigration status and takes appropriate enforcement action,” the ICE press release said. “ICE prioritizes the removal of criminal aliens convicted of serious crimes such as major drug offenses, murder, rape and kidnapping, as well as other threats to public safety, such as those with known gang affiliations, drunk-driving arrests, or who are fugitives or frequently try to game the immigration system.”

Mullendore said Washington County already was checking fingerprints against the Homeland Security system, as well as against U.S. Department of Justice records.

Since the beginning of 2009, the county has reported 48 illegal immigrants to ICE through the booking process at the detention center, he said. There were 16 reported in 2009, 23 in 2010, and nine so far this year, he said.

Will the automated cross-check lead to an increase in illegal immigrants reported?

“It’s possible, although I really don’t think that it will,” Mullendore said. “It just assures that no one’s going to slip through the cracks.”

Mullendore said space constraints would make it impractical for Washington County to participate in another ICE program known as 287(g), which allows the initial hearings for individuals arrested for immigration law violations to be conducted by local jurisdictions.

“Just like our court commissioner does a bond hearing on a subject that’s been arrested, (287(g)) allows them to have that hearing and set a bond for them for the ICE violation,” Mullendore said. “We are not doing that because we do not have the space to house the prisoners here. Until such time as we have that, there really isn’t anything we can do for that.”

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Illegal immigrants reported

Illegal immigrants reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement by the Washington County Detention Center:
 

2009: 16
2010: 23
2011: 9*
*as of April 14

Source: Sheriff Douglas W. Mullendore

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