Sen. Orrin G. Hatch and Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary John Morton, who oversees ICE, held a news conference here Wednesday morning to announce the expansion of ICE's highly successful Secure Communities initiative to Salt Lake, Davis and Utah counties. The deployment of Secure Communities to those counties is a major advance in ICE's ongoing nationwide effort to ensure that serious criminal alien offenders who are arrested by local law enforcement are identified for deportation and not released back into the community.
"After months of careful examination, Utah's law enforcement community and I determined that the Secure Communities program will be an effective way to identify and remove criminal aliens from our state," Sen. Hatch said. "By tapping innovative technology and sharing information between law enforcement agencies, Utah now has one more tool in its arsenal to protect our streets from criminal activity. Today's announcement is certainly a step in the right direction, and in the near future, we hope to have even more Utah counties participate in the program."
The cornerstone of Secure Communities is the activation of new information-sharing capabilities developed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) that automatically alert local law enforcement and ICE when potentially deportable criminal aliens come into local custody. Salt Lake County came on line last week and Utah and Davis counties were activated Tuesday.
In its first full week in operation, Secure Communities in Salt Lake County is credited with detecting more than 30 aliens in local custody who had been charged with or convicted of crimes. Of those, four were foreign nationals whose criminal records included arrests or convictions for the most serious types of crimes, Level 1 offenses, including forcible sexual abuse, sexual assault of a minor and aggravated assault.
"Secure Communities is a vital tool in ICE's enforcement strategy to partner with state and local law enforcement to promote public safety and prevent dangerous criminal aliens from returning to our streets," Assistant Secretary Morton said. "And by harnessing innovative technology, we're able to achieve this goal without putting any significant additional burden on state and local law enforcement."
Prior to the activation of the Secure Communities information-sharing capability, local arrestees' fingerprints were taken and checked for criminal history information against the DOJ biometric system maintained by the FBI. Under the Secure Communities strategy, that fingerprint information is now also being simultaneously checked against the biometrics-based immigration records maintained by DHS.
If any fingerprints match those of someone in DHS's biometric system, the new automated process notifies ICE, enabling the agency to take appropriate action to ensure dangerous criminal aliens are not released back into communities. Top priority is given to individuals who pose the greatest threat to public safety, such as those with prior convictions for major drug offenses, murder, rape, robbery, and kidnapping.
"The "Secure Communities Initiative" represents an extremely important advance in coordinating efforts to identify and address serious non-resident alien offenders," said Salt Lake County Sheriff James Winder. "The program provides a great opportunity for local and federal agencies to work together."
"This program is revolutionary," said Davis County Sheriff Bud E. Cox. "It keeps personnel on the job and saves money and countless hours of training while helping to solve an issue at the forefront of public opinion by identifying and deporting those who have entered the country illegally."
Assistant Secretary Morton announced Wednesday that Secure Communities is expected to be deployed to three additional Utah jurisdictions - Cache, Weber and Box Elder counties - in the coming weeks. Across the country, Secure Communities is now being used by 135 jurisdictions in 17 states. By next year, ICE expects Secure Communities to have a presence in every state, with nationwide coverage anticipated by 2013.
Since its inception in October 2008, Secure Communities has identified more than 18,800 aliens charged with or convicted of Level 1 crimes, more than 4,000 of whom have already been removed from the United States. Most of the criminal aliens who have been identified but not yet removed are completing their sentences. Additionally, ICE has removed nearly 25,000 aliens charged with or convicted of Level 2 and 3 crimes, including burglary and serious property crimes, which account for 90 percent of the crimes committed by aliens.
Secure Communities is part of DHS's comprehensive plan to distribute technology that links local law enforcement agencies to both FBI and DHS biometric systems. DHS's 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.
For more information on the Secure Communities program, visit www.ice.gov.