Federal immigration officials now have the ability to identify potentially deportable foreign nationals booked into Florida county jails on suspicion of crimes. Michael W. Meade, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office director in Miami, announced Tuesday that booking centers in all 67 Florida counties are now linked to ICE's biometric databases for quicker identification of immigration records.
Meade's disclosure marks an expansion in Florida of ICE's Secure Communities initiative, a controversial program the agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security deems vital to its efforts to quickly identify foreign nationals who have been convicted or charged.
"This capability means local law enforcement and ICE are automatically alerted when potentially deportable criminal aliens come into state and local custody," Meade told a news conference at ICE's office in Doral.
Immigrant-rights activists expressed concern.
"If this program were really targeting hardened criminals and making us safer, as ICE claims, I imagine most everyone would support it," said Cheryl Little, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, long a critic of Secure Communities.
"People arrested for any reason, including traffic violations and loitering, are caught in ICE's net — including U.S. citizens."
Under President Barack Obama, ICE has reconfigured its stated immigration enforcement priority, ostensibly targeting foreign nationals convicted of crimes committed in the United States.
Previously, immigration authorities detained and deported criminal and noncriminal immigrants without distinction.
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