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Secure Communities

ICE and law enforcement agencies in south Texas work together to prioritize, identify and remove criminal aliens

Webb County celebrates success of Secure Communities program after one year; initiative expanding to 12 more south Texas counties

LAREDO, Texas - U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) today announced the success and further expansion of ICE's Secure Communities strategy to south Texas. Secure Communities utilizes a biometric information-sharing capability to enable ICE to better identify aliens at the time they are fingerprinted and booked on criminal charges.

Secure Communities, which was launched in Laredo (Webb County) last June, has led to the removal of more than 20,000 convicted criminal aliens from the country. Additionally, the biometric information-sharing capability is being expanded to 12 additional south Texas counties on Tuesday.

"I applaud the efforts of ICE in working closely with our local law enforcement communities and for expanding this program into rural Texas," said Rep. Cuellar.

"Criminal elements are everywhere, and one of our duties is to ensure that our residents feel protected. This program makes sure that once a criminal's immigration status has been determined, appropriate action is taken after offenders complete their prison term."

Cuellar is a member of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism.

On June 16, 2009, Webb County launched ICE's Secure Communities program. To date, the following 17 central and south Texas counties have implemented the program: Bell, Bexar, Dimmitt, Hidalgo, Kinney, Maverick, McLennan, Real, Starr, Travis, Uvalde, Val Verde, Webb, Willacy, Williamson, Zapata and Zavala. The newest 12 counties in south Texas include: Bandera, Edwards, Frio, Gillespie, Gonzales, Guadalupe, Hays, Karnes, Kendall, La Salle, Medina and Wilson. ICE expects nationwide coverage for all law enforcement agencies by the end of 2013.

Formerly, during the booking process, arrestees' fingerprints were checked for criminal history information only against the biometric database maintained by the FBI. With the implementation of Secure Communities, this fingerprint information is now automatically and simultaneously checked against both the FBI criminal history records and the biometrics-based immigration records maintained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). If any fingerprints match those of someone in the DHS biometric system, the new automated process notifies ICE. ICE evaluates each case to determine the individual's immigration status and takes appropriate enforcement action. This includes aliens who are in lawful status and those who are present without lawful authority. Once identified through fingerprint matching, ICE will respond with a priority placed on aliens convicted of the most serious offenses first - such as those with convictions for major drug offenses, murder, rape and kidnapping.

"We want to make sure that our local law enforcement partners know as much as possible about the people in their custody," said Alonzo R. Pena, deputy assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security for ICE. "By using sophisticated biometrics, the Secure Communities initiative allows us to quickly and accurately identify aliens who pose the greatest threat to our communities. And the program requires no additional costs to the local law enforcement agency."

"I acclaim the work of ICE in jointly working with my office on this technology initiative launched in 2009. This initiative has now enhanced the way these offenders are identified and processed," said Webb County Sheriff Martin Cuellar.

Secure Communities bolsters the ongoing joint efforts by ICE and participating law enforcement agencies in the United States. Secure Communities is DHS' comprehensive strategy to improve and modernize the identification and removal of criminal aliens from the United States.

DHS' US-VISIT Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) holds biometrics-based immigration records, while the FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) contains biometrics-based criminal records. The interoperability of these two systems, which is the information-sharing capability ICE uses through Secure Communities, currently is activated in 197 jurisdictions in 20 states.

ICE does not regard aliens charged with, but not yet convicted of crimes, as "criminal aliens." Instead, a "criminal alien" is an alien convicted of a crime.