Washoe County checks fingerprints for legal status
Associated Press Writer
RENO – Washoe County has become the first jurisdiction in Nevada to participate in a federal program allowing jailers to use fingerprints to establish the immigration status and criminal history of inmates.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say the sheriff’s department of the state’s second most populous county began using the federal agency’s “Secure Communities” program this week.
All other Nevada jurisdictions are expected to follow suit by 2013, ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley said.
The program is designed to help federal authorities prioritize enforcement action against immigrants who can be deported based on criminal convictions, Haley said.
The program targets those posing the greatest threat to public safety, including convicted drug sellers, murderers, rapists and robbers, she added.
“We’re looking at the worst of the worst,” Haley told The Associated Press. “This new program will help us better identify the really bad people.”
She said the program differs from an existing program that uses trained officers to interview inmates and enforce immigration law under ICE supervision.
Local law enforcement authorities have long had access to FBI criminal history records, but the new program calls for fingerprints of inmates to be automatically checked against Department of Homeland Security immigration files as well.
The program allows authorities to obtain background information on an inmate’s “immigration encounters,” including immigration violations and past deportations, Haley said.
“We have different databases,” she said. “Our database shows immigration encounters. The FBI won’t have immigration information in their database.”
Sheriff Mike Haley hailed the new program, saying it allows his department to continue its enforcement efforts against “criminal aliens.”
“This effort will aid Washoe County in keeping our community safe from those who would cause us harm,” the sheriff said in a statement.
But Fernando Romero, president of Hispanics in Politics, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the new program attacks “darker-skinned people with accents.”
“It’s bothersome. It’s one more thing against us,” he said.
Lee Rowland, northern coordinator for ACLU of Nevada, said she believes the program infringes on the constitutional rights of immigrants based upon arrest rather than conviction.
“We believe local police focusing on immigration enforcement diverts from law enforcement,” she told the Review-Journal.