Administration must be careful with personal data

Freedom New Mexico

Immigration activists are rightly starting to rethink their trust of the Obama administration.

They have good reason: This administration has been more active in pursuing and deporting illegal residents than its immediate predecessors.

Those advocates might, however, be a bit too sensitive about one recent development.

People are voicing alarm that the government is stepping up its use of fingerprints to identify undocumented people and set them up for deportation.

According to a recent Associated Press report, law enforcement officials have been asked to provide fingerprints of people who are arrested to immigration officials. Some, including the San Francisco sheriff, have balked at the request, and the Washington, D.C., City Council enacted a resolution blocking its use by D.C. police. The local officials fear that its implementation could raise residents’ fears of making any contact with police, and keep victims and witnesses from reporting crimes.

Ostensibly, the reviews are part of a larger “Secure Communities” initiative to identify criminals of all types. The fingerprints are to be shared with the Department of Homeland Security, which now oversees America’s immigration agencies, as well as with the FBI. The prints are to be checked against federal criminal history records as well as immigration data. The initiative began in 2007, under the George W. Bush administration.

To date, most law enforcement agencies have not begun the practice; it’s being done in 467 jurisdictions in 26 states, a small percentage of the thousands of cities, counties and parishes that comprise local political subdivisions in this country. But the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced it wants to be getting data from all of the nation’s jails by 2013, setting off the alarms.

Many Americans — including some of those now expressing outrage — have long called for better information sharing among the nation’s policing agencies. Countless crimes have been committed by people who had been released from police custody on other charges because their criminal history didn’t show on a standard background check. Many suspects have been in custody and then released because information they were wanted for a crime wasn’t available to all law enforcement agencies.

If the “Secure Communities” initiative includes full sharing of criminal data by all law enforcement agencies, then it is hard to find fault with its implementation. That’s exactly what we’ve been asking for since before the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

If, however, the information is only to be used for immigration enforcement, then the practice is blatantly discriminatory.