New program targets illegal immigrants in jail

December 17, 2009 2:59:56 PM PST
The Houston Police Department has teamed up with the Department of Homeland Security for a new program designed to identify and deport criminal illegal immigrants. But as you might imagine, the program is already stirring up some controversy. The program isn't new, but it's new to Houston. While police say this technology puts the department on the cutting edge, some in Houston's immigrant community are skeptical.

It's called the 'Secure Communities' initiative, a sweeping new plan to target and remove potentially dangerous criminal illegal immigrants from the city's jails and eventually the country.

"Non citizens, if they commit a serious crime against people here, they ought to be deported after they serve their time," said Houston Mayor Bill White. "There are some people who have not been and there are some people who've come back."

Using the latest technology, anyone arrested for a Class C misdemeanor or above, will have their fingerprints taken and electronically compared to local and national databases all over the country, including the FBI's and the Department of Homeland Security's, where immigration history information can be accessed.

In as little as four hours, Houston police will know whether federal authorities need to take action by issuing a detainer or a hold on that prisoner.

"There are no additional resources that ICE is going to add to our facilities," said Houston Police Department Assistant Chief Dan Perales. "Everything is done online through the Internet."

Of the 133,000 arrests made by Houston police each year, 58,000 are charged with Class C misdemeanors. Of that number, 14,000 or 24 percent are non-citizens.

While some local immigrant activists worry that law enforcement might take it to the extreme, Chief Hurtt says it's strictly for people who are in jail.

"Secure Communities does not deputize Houston police officers to enforce immigration laws or to stop people on the street and check on their immigration status," said HPD Chief Harold Hurtt.


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