Status of ICE deportation program in Alabama remains unclear

Michael Volpe Contributor
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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials presented The Daily Caller with a less-than-clear explanation of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s Feb. 15 comments that ICE would not increase cooperation with Alabama on its tough deportation program called “Secure Communities” while a state illegal immigration law is adjudicated.

ICE officials informed TheDC that the agency intends to maintain relations with the 37 Alabama counties that already participate in Secure Communities, adding to the confusion about what exactly Napolitano’s promise means.

The program identifies illegals through a fingerprint-sharing system with states and the FBI and moves to deport individuals who have been arrested for violating state law.

Vincent Picard, a spokesperson for ICE in Alabama, told The Daily Caller that ICE still plans on fully implementing the program on schedule, by the end of 2013.

“Currently, 55% of jurisdictions in Alabama are activated,” he said. “ICE continues to work with its law enforcement partners in Alabama and across the country to responsibly and effectively implement this federal information sharing capability and plans to reach complete nationwide activation by the end of 2013.”

Picard could provide no guidance on how such a guarantee could be made in Alabama. According to the testimony of Napolitano, implementation of Secure Communities is halted indefinitely pending the outcome of legal challenges to Alabama’s tough anti-illegal immigration law.

According to Picard, where the program has been implemented in Alabama, there is evidence of success.

“In 2011, the Mobile County Sheriff’s Department booked a 32-year-old man on two burglary charges,” noted Picard. “Although he provided an alias and claimed to be a U.S. citizen, his fingerprints generated an IDENT/IAFIS Interoperability match identifying him as a Colombian citizen previously deported and with a history of deceiving law enforcement regarding his identity.

“During two previous arrests in Texas, he presented valid identity documents and claimed the identity of two different U.S. citizens,” he added. “In 2008, he was convicted of tampering with government records with intent to defraud or harm. Because he was identified as illegally re-entering the country after removal, his final order of removal was reinstated. In June 2011, ICE removed him from the United States.”

Alabama is not the only state where ICE is touting success for Secure Communities. In a March 16 press release ICE touted the successful capture of a suspected illegal alien in Rhode Island.  The man was wanted for murder in Guatemala.

Speaking anonymously, however, ICE officials downplayed the effect of Secure Communities in Alabama.

“ICE continues working closely with state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies in Alabama to help identify specific needs that may be met by deployment of other ICE programs in order to respond to the local community’s law enforcement needs and to promote ICE enforcement priorities,” said one official.

“For example, the Criminal Alien Program (CAP) in Alabama provides direct contact with ICE.  CAP supports state and local law enforcement agencies in identifying foreign born prisoners who meet ICE priorities and are incarcerated in federal, state and local prisons and jails, as well as at-large criminal aliens.”

The Criminal Aliens Program, along with other programs like ICE’s 287(g) program, attempt to perfect largely the same thing that Secure Communities does: increased data sharing.

Liberal groups like the ACLU have denounced Secure Communities, while conservatives like Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies say it doesn’t go far enough.

The administration itself has touted Secure Communities as the most effective and efficient method of data-sharing to date. As such, said critics, it would be mystifying for the DHS to voluntarily halt the program in Alabama.

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Michael Volpe