Sunday, April 21, 2024

U.S. Expanding Immigration Checks

The Obama administration is expanding a program created during George W. Bush’s administration that will check the immigration status of every person who gets booked in a local jail by matching fingerprints with the federal immigration database. This program, according to current and former U.S. officials, could increase deportation of illegal immigrants who have been convicted of crimes and identified for deportation tenfold in four years.

Inmates in federal and state prisons are already checked against the immigration database, but authorities in local prisons generally have neither the time nor staff to do the same. Many local jails are home of up to twice as many illegal immigrants. The program currently operates in 48 counties across the country including those with the cities of Dallas, Houston, Miami, Boston and Phoenix.  It will expand to Los Angeles this year and to almost all local jails by 2012.

The expansion of this program is going to reshape immigration enforcement, especially since the Obama administration has pledged to crack down on illegal immigrants who commit crimes. If the program works as planned, it is estimated that about 1.4 million illegal immigrants who have committed crimes would be found each year. That is ten times the number of criminal illegal immigrants that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported last year.

President Obama increased the funding for this program, known as Secure Communities, 30 percent in his 2010 budget to $200 million. Even with this increased funding some wonder if the program can be implemented smoothly and if there is enough money to do so. Stewart Baker, former assistant secretary of homeland security for policy, explained that a surge in deportation would require more prosecutors, immigration judges, detention beds and other resources.

David J. Venturella, program director at U.S. ICE, said that the agency will prioritize deporting the most dangerous offenders, those that pose national security risks or who are convicted of violent crimes.

Critics of the program do not believe that this is enough. They argue that by deporting only the worst criminal illegal immigrants the program is not addressing the rest of the illegal immigrants or providing any sort of deterrent for further illegal immigration.

Amnesty International and immigrant advocates warn that the change could lead to larger problems and the “criminalization” of illegal immigration.  Tom Barry, an analyst for the Center for International Policy, believes that the program could unintentionally punish foreign-born U.S. residents who have served time previously but were not deported.

Donald Kerwin, vice president for programs at the Migration Policy Institute, thinks that the federal government should reassert its primacy in enforcing immigration law. He goes on to explain that this needs to be coupled with an increased effort to find lawyers for immigrants because unlike in criminal courts, immigration courts do not provide public defenders.

Washington Post


  1. This is actually a very good idea. If someone is undocumented and committing crimes, then clearly he doesn’t appreciate what he has and there shouldn’t be a place for him in this country.

  2. Ana Curtis says

    I would rather see increased funding to improve the speed of service for immigration services that would enable immigrants to attain legal status. The number of years that immigrants eligible for residency or citizenship must wait is ridiculous.

    Obama promised that he would give immigrants here opportunities for legalization and citizenship. We need to hold him to that promise, after all, the majority of immigrants seeking entry are original Americans from this continent. The majority of xenophobes are originally from Europe.

    That being said, I support expanded efforts to deport violent offenders and bar them from entry.