Colo. Gets ICE Fingerprint Plan To ID Illegal Immigrants

Gov. Ritter Makes Announcement Tuesday

Colorado is joining 35 other states in a federal program designed to determine the immigration status of people arrested for crime, and whether they’ve been arrested before.

It’s called the Secure Communities initiative, and it will provide an electronic link between local law enforcement and the federal government.

“When an individual is arrested and fingerprinted, their prints will be sent to a federal database,” said Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, a proponent of the initiative. “Right now they’re just sent to a state database.”

Gov. Bill Ritter called the initiative an effective tool that will fill a gap in enforcement and help overcome challenges in the public safety network.

Ritter said Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel will provide Colorado with quarterly reports so the state can assess how the program is working.

Jessie Ulibarri, of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, says the group opposes the initiative, as written, because members believe it will create a dragnet for immigrant communities.

“We understand the need to make sure that our communities are safe by getting those people who’ve been convicted of serious crimes out of our communities,” Ulibarri said. “However, a traffic offense, a minor parking violation or moving violation shouldn’t be a reason to split up your family.”

Supporters have a different take.

“I generally don’t agree with the critics who say, ‘Oh, we ought to just restrict the identification to people who are committing serious crimes,’” said Suthers. “I mean let’s identify everybody and see who is in the country illegally, and then ICE can decide, based on their resources, what they have the ability to do.”

Suthers said there is no way ICE can deport 12 million people.

“They do a lot of prioritizing,” he said.

Ulibarri said he’d like to see four major modifications to the initiative.

“I’d like to see it applied only to those convicted of high level offenses,” Ulibarri said. “There should be exceptions for domestic violence, exceptions for juveniles and a very specific way for communities to opt out.”

The coalition’s policy director, Hans Meyer, told 7NEWS that without some major modifications, law-abiding people who are here without papers may not report crimes that they see.

Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, said that’s a red herring.

“If an individual is here illegally and they’re committing a crime, they should be on that database,” Looper said. “And the proper steps should be taken to deport the individual back to their country of origin."

“We’re not just talking about Mexico,” Looper added. “We’re talking about other countries like Russia and potentially Afghanistan and Iraq.”

The Secure Communities initiative was launched by former President George Bush in 2008.

Congress has appropriated $1.4 billion to ICE to expand criminal immigrant enforcement efforts. Secure Communities is part of that effort.

Colorado became interested in Secure Communities after it was learned that a man who caused a triple fatal accident at an Aurora ice cream shop in 2008 was in the country illegally.

Francis Hernandez had avoided deportation despite being arrested more than a dozen times, because he gave police a different name each time he was arrested.

Secure communities will keep Hernandez’s fingerprints in a federal database.

The program will become mandatory by 2013.