Journalism in the Public Interest

Judge Says Feds Have ‘Misled the Public’ on Controversial Immigration Program

Federal immigration authorities must hand over potentially embarrassing documents related to the implementation of a controversial immigration program, a federal judge in the Southern District of New York ordered this week.

According to Judge Shira Scheindlin, federal immigration authorities seem to “have gone out of their way to mislead the public” about the program known as Secure Communities, and they’ve issued mixed messages about whether the program is optional or not.

Secure Communities allows state and local law enforcement to share the fingerprints of their arrestees with the FBI and Homeland Security for the purpose of targeting for deportation immigrants who’ve committed serious crimes. Immigration advocates say that the three-year-old program nets individuals accused of minor offenses and also undermines trust between communities and law enforcement.

New York, Massachusetts and Illinois have already announced they intend to opt out of the program, leaving local authorities free to decide whether their counties should participate. California is considering doing the same.

But as the judge’s latest ruling indicates, it’s long been unclear whether these states will actually be able to opt out. Documents released earlier this year showed that the program—once widely believed to be voluntary—may not have been so voluntary after all, as the Associated Press reported in February:

A voluntary program to run all criminal suspects' fingerprints through an immigration database was only voluntary until cities refused to participate, recently released documents show. The Obama administration then tightened the rules so that cities had no choice but to have the fingerprints checked.

In April, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano acknowledged that the program was never voluntary. She added that the “whole opt-in, out-out thing was a misunderstanding from the get-go.” Napolitano had previously written a letter to Congress that laid out instructions for any law enforcement agency "that does not wish to participate in the Secure Communities deployment plan." 

On its website, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that fingerprints submitted to the FBI are automatically shared with federal immigration authorities who can then take enforcement action regardless of what local and state officials decide about the program. The agency acknowleges that past statements have led to confusion but now states unequivocally, "FACT: State and local jurisdictions cannot opt out of Secure Communities."

Siding with civil rights groups and immigrant advocates who brought the suit [PDF], the judge ruled that federal immigration agencies needed to be more transparent about their inconsistencies. In response to a public records request, the agencies had redacted what amounted to embarrassing details about how they switched their positions, and the judge ruled that those redactions were “haphazard” and the details had to be made public.

The confusion of state and local governments over the Secure Communities program is yet another piece of the continuing struggle between states and the federal government over who has the power to act on illegal immigration. As we’ve noted, several states have recently enacted controversial laws that have been challenged in court and curbed by federal judges across the country. 

Personally, I see no problem with this program at all.  The article seems to point out the politically motivated ambiguity surrounding the program.  No one wants to irritate the hispanic community going into a heated election year so the Feds, including Napolitano, were purposely vague regarding compliance.  Wow!  I’m shocked!  Despite this, the program itself is a no brainer.  Anyone who commits a serious crime should have their fingerprints shared with the FBI and Immigration to see if further proceedings including federal charges and deportation should come into play.

Patricia Lothrop

July 14, 2011, 1:47 p.m.

I’d hope that the email lead wouldn’t introduce grammatical errors not actually in the ProPublica article or blog! You wouldn’t want to mislead your readers, as I was misled into the belief that the judge quoted didn’t know how to spell “misled.”

This program is a trial balloon or pilot project for the further evolution of the US into a police state. Of course the first people to be targeted are immigrants (so people like WIllHarper can delude themselves into thinking that’s the limit of the program).

The point is to roll out a “next generation” federalization of all county jails so that the feds get all the biometrics fed to all agencies and private corporations administering the systems. This is the center of the real campaign of deception.

Emory Alexander

July 14, 2011, 4:44 p.m.

I’m all for getting the illegals the hell out of our country!


I’m all for exploring and exposing govt overreach, but to quote Freud, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”  Having a fingerprint database is nothing new at all.  The only thing new here is requiring local law enforcement to run fingerprints thru the FBI database and ICE to check for immigration status and federal advisories.  I have to think this happens fairly often anyway.

Will, I’m sorry but you really need to look at the documents EPIC got released already. It proves that SC is just the first public chunk of a much larger multi-program FBI/Homeland Security biometrics program that has nothing to do with immigrants at all.
The groups that released the documents, obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, said the broader project is an FBI program dubbed Next Generation Identification or NGI, which includes not only fingerprint matches but also iris scans and facial-recognition technology.
“NGI is the next-generation Big Brother,” said Jessica Karp of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, one of the groups that released the documents. “It’s a backdoor route to a national ID, to be carried not in a wallet, but within the body itself.”
Read more:
It is a bad idea, among other reasons if your biometrics are stolen then the identity theft is almost irreversible. QUOTE:
  “These documents provide a fascinating glimpse into the FBI’s role in forcing S-Comm on states and localities. The FBI’s desire to pave the way for the rest of the NGI project seems to have been a driving force in the policy decision to make S-Comm mandatory. But the documents also confirm that, both technologically and legally, S-Comm could have been voluntary.” (Source)
The “NGI project” to which she refers is the Next Generation Identification which will be used to enhance the current database of fingerprints (IAFIS).  Added to fingerprints will be full biometrics including palm scans, voice imprints, iris scans, facial recognition, and other body signatures that form a full identity dossier of every individual that can ultimately be analyzed and communicated in real time between local law enforcement and federal agencies.  This collated information essentially becomes the property of law enforcement agencies even if your biometrics (and DNA) are picked up as latent imprints at a crime scene.  This makes everyday movements part of a tracking grid that can be cross-referenced beyond the court of law, leading to false suspicions, interrogations, and arrests.

Nancy McGovern

July 14, 2011, 5:43 p.m.

We are already a Police State operating under the auspices of being a democracy. If you own a cell phone, computer, etc. you are being tracked by corporate entities who are beholden to the government to release information on any individual or group of individuals when ordered. Forget privacy. Regarding the TSA and the Border Patrol, they can confiscate and take apart anything you own (including your vehicle) based on a mere whim of “suspicion”—which might be the way you look or your attitude not being ‘respectful enough’. The goons with the guns either tote their guns themselves or have the guns behind them as backup in case you say no to illigitimate searches. Be happy, it’s all in the name of NATIONAL SECURITY! tyranny anywhere has ever left that handle out of their propaganda.

Oh me oh my!  won’t we be so much safer.  And so much more imprisoned and blah blah blah.  There was an issue with illegals in the southeast.  The rounded them up and took them away.  Now the crops sit and rot in the fields.  Where are all the pissed off white people looking for a job.  Go pick food!

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