A federal database that uses the fingerprints of convicted criminals to establish immigration status and determine criminal history went into effect this week in Washoe County, the first Nevada location to begin using the resource.
The program, called Secure Communities, is expected to come to Clark County by 2013.
It is part of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that helps local authorities identify high-risk illegal immigrants who have been convicted of crimes such as homicide, rape, kidnapping or drug trafficking, among other violent offenses. It has been used in other parts of the country since 2008.
Upon being booked, a person's fingerprints will be automatically checked against both the FBI criminal history records and the Department of Homeland Security's immigration records.
Lori Haley, ICE spokeswoman, said the program differs from Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which is what Clark County uses for immigration enforcement. The act authorizes agreements among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to enforce immigration law.
"In 287(g), officers are trained by ICE to enforce immigration law, interview and placing detainers," Haley said. "In Secure Communities, when anybody who is booked, and their fingerprints are taken, previously those would be sent to the FBI. Now, they'll go to DHS databases, so anybody who has had a prior encounter with us, we'll know who that is.
"The program isn't subject to any racial profiling or (immigration) status. We're focusing on aliens convicted of crimes who should not be out (of jail) and who pose a threat."
The fingerprints of every individual arrested and booked into custody are checked against immigration records, not just those manually submitted based on subjective indicators, such as something a subject has said, Haley added.
"We'll still have 287(g), this is just in conjunction with what we normally do," said Officer Jacinto Rivera, Las Vegas police spokesman. "It's not about identifying undocumented individuals, it's criminal aliens. If that's the only crime you've committed, coming across the border illegally, this more than likely will have no effect on you. It's not just to look and see an immigration status of an individual."
But as the debate for comprehensive immigration reform continues, some of its supporters said they worry the fingerprinting database infringes on the constitutional rights of immigrants based upon arrest rather than conviction.
"The ACLU strongly favors systems that deal with immigration enforcement after conviction," said Lee Rowland, northern coordinator for ACLU of Nevada. "We believe local police focusing on immigration enforcement diverts from law enforcement. It reduces trust and cooperation that local police require to adequately police communities. These programs backfire."
Rowland said the expanded fingerprint database undermines a person's Fourth Amendment rights and threatening his equal protection under the law.
"You can use fingerprints for identifying someone upon arrest, but then to begin running the data to link it up to a federal database goes beyond what the Fourth Amendment permits," she said. "We believe you can avoid many constitutional concerns by ensuring this revolves around conviction rather than arrest."
Fernando Romero, president of Hispanics in Politics, said the resource attacks "darker skinned people with accents."
"Laws like this bother me dramatically because many law enforcement officers who are overly aggressive have a tendency to usurp their authority and come after immigrants in a much more concerted effort," Romero said. "It's bothersome. It's one more thing against us."
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