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Groups continue to fight Secure Communities program

The Department of Homeland Security has continued its assault on the civil rights of immigrants using a new potential piece of legislation, immigrant advocates are saying.

With the Secure Communities program, which we have discussed several times in the past, the department wants to require all police agencies to check individuals booked at jails to spot any potential immigration violations. The policy, which is being contested by a number of civil rights groups, does not allow the agencies to refuse the program.

Governors of both Illinois and New York requested to opt out of the program through written letters sent to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but both were turned down.

Those governors feared that not only would the program potentially punish immigrants without a criminal background, but it would also damage trust in law enforcement and could prevent victims of crimes from coming forward.

However, 41 states, including South Carolina, are on board and signed contracts to participate.

Under the new program, all fingerprints of individuals being booked in local jails are passed through the Department of Homeland Security's electronic database to screen for immigration discrepancies.

Normally, that information is only shared with the Federal Bureau of Investigations to access criminal records, but now all state and local law enforcement agencies will have access.

Proponents of the program argue that federal agencies, in this case, Homeland Security and the FBI, don't need a state's permission to share information with each other.

The program is similar to the controversial policy first introduced by Arizona and now copied in several other states where police officers could examine an individual's immigration status without even placing them under arrest or booking them in jail.

However, in the Secure Communities program, only the immigration status of someone charged with a crime would be examined.

Source: USA TODAY, "Federal immigration-check requirement draws ire," Alan Gomez, Aug. 8, 2011.

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