DALLAS (AP) — Nearly a dozen more North Texas law enforcement agencies will have the ability to access federal criminal and immigration records simultaneously when taking suspects' fingerprints during booking, federal officials announced Wednesday.
The Kaufman County Jail and Irving police joined the federal "Secure Communities" program this week, bringing the number of participants to 20 policing agencies in Texas, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said.
Latino advocates have previously accused Irving police officers of racial profiling and overzealously arresting suspected illegal immigrants so they can be deported. The Mexican Consulate took the claim so seriously that it advised people to avoid driving through the Dallas suburb.
Police in Farmers Branch, a Dallas suburb where officials have tried to push out illegal immigrants with a rental ban, began participating in the program last week.
"It is another program offered by ICE that helps us make our city safer," Farmers Branch Police Chief Sidney R. Fuller said in a statement.
Secure Communities was developed by the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to identify immigrants with criminal records that make them deportable. Priority is given to suspects with convictions for drug offenses, murder, rape, robbery and kidnapping.
When officers or jailers take suspects' fingerprints during the booking process, the fingerprints will be checked against the FBI's criminal history records and any existing immigration records maintained by DHS. If the system detects a person's fingerprints match those of someone in the DHS fingerprint system, it notifies ICE. Agents from ICE then determine the person's immigration status and whether they are deportable.
"There's no extra effort on the part of the local law officer," Nuria T. Prendes, field office director for ICE's detention and removal operations office in Dallas. "It automatically hits our … immigration database."
Police in Carrollton, a neighboring city whose mayor has emphasized ridding the city of illegal immigrants is one of his priorities, and the Johnson, Grayson and Hunt County jails began participating in the program this month. Mesquite and Richardson police and the Collin and Denton County jails joined last month, according to ICE.
Maverick, Val Verde, Kinney, Zavala, Real and Uvalde counties in Southwest Texas were added to the list of agencies in the last few months. Dallas and Harris counties were among the first to use the program in Texas.
Several law enforcement agencies in Arizona, California, Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia also use the program. Ultimately, ICE officials want to expand it to more state and local law enforcement agencies around the country.
"As it becomes more popular, I think most jails are going to want it," Prendes said. "It's something that they really don't have to do anything but run the print."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.