By IVAN MORENO, Associated Press Writer
- Colorado is considering a first-in-the-nation compromise on a federal immigration program after several groups complained that the initiative to catch illegal immigrants by using fingerprints could lead to racial profiling and intimidate crime victims.
Gov. Bill Ritter’s office confirmed Friday they are negotiating an agreement with the federal government that would make Colorado the first of 29 states to modify the rapidly expanding Secure Communities program. Critics of the program have said it lacks oversight and it’s unclear how Immigration and Customs and Enforcement, which runs the program, intends to meet its goal of focusing on the most dangerous criminals.
Michael Shea, Ritter’s deputy counsel, said in an e-mail to the Colorado Bar Association last month that the proposed agreement “would be unique to Colorado, and it would provide a mechanism for determining how the program is working.” The Associated Press obtained the e-mail through an open records request that also showed that several groups and lawmakers have urged Ritter in the last two months not to proceed with the program, or to make changes to it if he does.
Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer said the state was working to make modifications to the program based on suggestions from different groups but he said he couldn’t provide specifics of what the changes would look like. He stressed that Ritter has not decided whether to enroll Colorado in the program but would make a decision sometime before the end of his term in January.
“I think it’s fair to say that we recognized very early on that there were going to be a few things that we would want to modify,” Dreyer said. “And of course this is all predicated on if the governor decides to move forward.”
ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok said hundreds of jurisdictions in 29 states have implemented the program so far and that none have requested modifications. Washington, D.C. police were working with ICE to negotiate changes to alleviate concerns from immigrant advocates, but the Council proposed legislation to block Secure Communities from being implemented. San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey has publicly denounced the program, which was recently implemented at his jail.
With Secure Communities, the fingerprints of everyone who is booked into jail for any crime are run against FBI criminal history records and Department of Homeland Security immigration records to determine who is in the country illegally and whether they’ve been arrested before. ICE wants to have the program in every jail by 2013.
From October 2008 through June of this year, nearly 47,000 people identified through Secure Communities were deported, according to government data released last month as part of a lawsuit by immigrant advocacy groups. Of those, 9,831 were labeled as having committed the most serious crimes, while 12,293 were considered non-criminals.
ICE has maintained that the program is a fair and efficient way to identify the most dangerous criminals who are in the country illegally. Since everyone booked into a jail is fingerprinted, supporters of the program say there is no racial profiling. The program has received support from many law enforcement throughout the country, including Ohio, Florida, and Idaho.
In Colorado, both the sheriffs’ and police chiefs’ associations have told Ritter they support the program. Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes said he wants Colorado to have the program, and so has Republican congressional candidate Ryan Frazier.
But the majority of the letters the governor’s office provided to the AP were from groups concerned about the program. Denver Council members, state lawmakers, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, and the Mexican consulate in Denver all sent letters, as well as the Colorado Bar Association, the Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar. The letters expressed fears of racial profiling and said the program would make illegal immigrants reluctant cooperate with police when they witness a crime or are victims.
“Due to the program’s focus on identification at booking as opposed to conviction, issues regarding due process, transparency, oversight and racial or status profiling merit further consideration,” said the letter by the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar. The letter went on to say that any agreement with the government on the program should contain an “explicit requirement” that only the most dangerous suspects are screened but only when they’re convicted.
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