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Making 2 systems work as 1

Call it the tale of two automated fingerprint systems.

The FBI has managed the nation's collection of fingerprints since 1924, but the agency went fully electronic in 1999 when it launched the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, or IAFIS. This national repository of fingerprints and criminal histories enables law enforcement at every level to quickly match up criminal evidence with criminal identities.

On the other hand (so to speak), the Department of Homeland Security's IDENT -- the Automated Biometric Identification System that houses fingerprint records and limited biographic information -- was created in 1994 to help U.S. border and immigration officials keep criminals and terrorists from crossing our borders.

Two different systems...with two different missions...for two different sets of users.

But in this post-9/11, globalized world, those charged with protecting the nation need to be on the same page -- with appropriate access to each other's information. So that's why the Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Department of State have worked hard in recent years to establish interoperability between these two fingerprint databases.

Phase one.
In 2006, DHS and DOJ/FBI began a pilot project with a limited number of agencies, making technical enhancements to IAFIS and IDENT that allowed two-way sharing of information. The FBI and DHS exchanged electronic copies of fingerprint images of certain subsets of data from each system, including known or suspected terrorists, subjects with wanted notices, and visa refusals. Authorized users of each system were then able to access those records. We called this IDENT/IAFIS interoperability.

The result: law enforcement and border and immigration officials each gained near real-time access to information from both systems on non-U.S. persons they encounter -- whether at a police booking station, a border crossing, or at a U.S. Embassy visa office abroad.

Phase two.
In 2008, we began expanding the concept, implementing a technological fix that would support a direct search request from authorized users of the full IDENT and IAFIS systems through a single interface.

It was during this second phase that DHS's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Secure Communities started collaborating with US-VISIT and CJIS to use this critical tool to quickly and accurately identify aliens arrested for crimes and in local law enforcement custody in the United States.

Together, ICE, US-VISIT and CJIS worked to deploy this new biometric information sharing capability (IDENT/IAFIS interoperability) to 481 jurisdictions in 27 states across the country with more jurisdictions being added all the time. Eventually, the plan is for every IDENT and IAFIS user -- local, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement and authorized non-criminal justice agencies across the country -- to have this same information sharing capability.

National law enforcement associations, such as the National Sheriffs' and the Major Cities Chiefs' Associations, have applauded ICE for implementing this information sharing technology and acknowledged its success in helping keep communities safe.

The successes we've seen:

SAN PABLO, CA -- One day after activating this new capability, a man was arrested for vehicular manslaughter after he struck and killed a motorcyclist. He was also charged with hit and run, driving under the influence (DUI) and driving with a suspended license. During booking, his fingerprints were checked against DOJ and DHS records, revealing his illegal immigration status, prior removal and previous convictions for carrying a concealed weapon, cruelty toward spouse and multiple DUIs. ICE agents were automatically notified and placed a detainer for the subject. Upon conclusion of his judicial proceedings, the case will be presented to the Assistant United States Attorney's Office for prosecution for re-entering the country after deportation. ICE will remove him from the United States once the justice process is complete.

ZAPATA COUNTY, TX -- A man was arrested for capital murder of his 6-month-old nephew. Upon being booked into law enforcement custody, his fingerprints were checked against DOJ and DHS records. As a result of this improved information sharing at the federal level, ICE was immediately notified that the individual in custody was illegally present in the United States. Upon disposition of his current charges, ICE will assume custody and remove him from the United States.

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FL -- Temple Terrace police officers arrested a man for carrying a concealed weapon, opposing an officer and providing a false name to law enforcement. Despite his past use of multiple aliases, fingerprint records checked against DOJ and DHS records revealed that he entered the United States legally as a B-2 non-immigrant visitor but did not leave when his length of stay expired. The subject also had an active criminal arrest warrant for attempting to murder a police officer. He was convicted in December 2009 for carrying a concealed firearm and sentenced to 1 year in prison. Following completion of his sentence, ICE will assume custody and remove him from the United States.

BOSTON, MA -- A woman was arrested and convicted for felony assault and battery. While in law enforcement custody, her fingerprints were checked against DOJ and DHS records. ICE was immediately notified that she had illegally entered the United States in 2005 and ordered removed after failing to appear before an immigration judge. Due to her criminal conviction and previous order of removal, ICE completed enforcement action and removed her from the United States.

In recognition of their innovative solutions to align these automated identification fingerprint systems, members of DHS' U.S.-VISIT (U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology Program) and Secure Communities teams, and the FBI's CJIS team were recently honored with the ICE Assistant Secretary's Protecting the Homeland award.

Congratulations to everyone involved...but the real winners are the American people, who are safer in their cities and neighborhoods.