MIAMI - Law enforcement agencies in Highlands, Lake and Monroe counties will benefit from a new initiative developed by the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Justice (DOJ) that modernizes the process used to accurately identify and remove dangerous criminal aliens from the community.
The initiative, Secure Communities, is administered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and enables ICE to determine whether an individual arrested by a participating state or local law enforcement agency is a dangerous criminal alien and take the appropriate action to remove the individual from the community.
Highlands, Lake and Monroe counties join 13 Florida counties--Brevard, Broward, Charlotte, Clay, Collier, Duval, Hillsborough, Manatee, Marion, Miami Dade, Pinellas, St. John's, and St. Lucie counties--to the growing list of law enforcement agencies to receive biometrics-based immigration history information about inmates via the new Secure Communities initiative. Secure Communities has already been implemented in more than 100 jurisdictions in 14 states with nationwide coverage expected by the end of 2013.
"Secure Communities is a DHS initiative to more broadly manage and modernize the processes used to identify and ultimately remove dangerous criminal aliens from our communities," said Acting Secure Communities Executive Director Marc Rapp. "Our goal with this effort is to use information sharing to prevent criminal aliens from being released back into the community, with little or no additional burden on our local law enforcement partners."
Secure Communities is fundamentally different from other ICE programs, primarily because under Secure Communities, state and local law enforcement officials are not authorized to enforce immigration laws on behalf of ICE. ICE officials make immigration status determinations and take appropriate action under the law, consistent with ICE policies and regulations.
At the Highlands, Lake and Monroe County Jails, Secure Communities will provide technological enhancements to the collaborative efforts of ICE and the jail officers in identifying dangerous criminal aliens. Secure Communities enhances the ongoing joint efforts by those counties and ICE to identify criminal aliens in the counties' jail system and process them for removal.
Formerly as part of the booking process, arrestees' fingerprints were taken and checked for criminal history information against the DOJ biometric system maintained by the FBI. With the implementation of Secure Communities in Highlands, Lake and Monroe counties, the fingerprint information will now be simultaneously checked against both the FBI criminal history records and the biometrics-based immigration records maintained by the 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 after offenders complete their prison terms. Top priority is given to aliens who pose the greatest threat to public safety, such as those with prior convictions for major drug offenses, murder, rape, robbery and kidnapping.
Highlands County Sheriff Susan Benton said, "We are pleased to participate in the Secure Communities program by providing our Detention Bureau with immediate access to the immigration records, which will allow for the potential detention of illegal immigrants when they are arrested for committing crimes in Highlands County."
Lake County Sheriff Gary S. Borders said, "This tool will undoubtedly be an invaluable resource in helping local authorities quickly identify and process for deportation those illegal immigrants who are a threat to their communities. Interagency cooperation such as this is the key ingredient to productive and proactive law enforcement."
Monroe County Sheriff Bob Peryam said, "This gives law enforcement in the Florida Keys yet another tool to use in keeping the citizens of Monroe County safe. We look forward to working together with ICE in their efforts to apprehend these potentially dangerous criminals."
Secure Communities enhances the ongoing joint efforts by ICE and participating law enforcement agencies in Florida to identify criminal aliens in the jail system and process them for removal. Eventually, with DOJ and other DHS component collaboration, ICE plans to make this capability available to all state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the nation.
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.
More information about ICE's Secure Communities initiative is available on ICE.gov's Secure Communities page.