LOCKED UP: The number of illegal immigrants arrested will rise due to new rules and computer alerts to the feds.

Posted: 5:02 am
November 3, 2008

Nearly 10,000 illegal immigrants and legal residents with green cards who ran afoul of the law in the New York area were detained by US immigration last year - a startling 43 percent increase over fiscal year 2007, records show.

The increased vigilance by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, especially those stationed on Rikers Island, led to the spike over 2007, when about 7,000 incarcerated immigrants were detained for deportation proceedings, officials said.

It's not clear how many of them were actually deported.

The number of jailed immigrants snared by the government is expected to balloon under a recently announced Department of Homeland Security program.

The program, called "Secure Communities," gives local cops conducting standard FBI criminal-fingerprint checks access to suspects' immigration records - and sends a computer alert to the feds.

The pilot program is being tested in five counties in Texas and North Carolina and is expected to spread to 45 cities this spring.

It will expand nationwide within about four years, said Richard Rocha, an ICE spokesman.

He did not say when NYPD cops will be trained and equipped.

"It's not solely about immigration enforcement - it's truly about public safety and being able to remove criminals that are incarcerated," he said.

Julie Myers, a Homeland Security assistant secretary, said the new policy of ICE and the FBI sharing information with other law-enforcement agencies will help local cops identify immigrants who turn to crime and use fake identifications or Social Security numbers.

"We will revolutionize the process of identifying criminal aliens in custody," she said.

But Janis Rosheuvel, of the city's Families for Freedom, an immigrant-advocacy group, had several concerns.

"The notion that this initiative will get dangerous incarcerated people and deport them rests on shaky ground at best, since so many minor offenses, or a simple police stop, can subject people to the cruelties of deportation," she said.

Stephen Morello, a spokesman for the Department of Correction, said ICE agents already have access to the records of the city's roughly 14,000 prisoners under the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which ferrets out immigrant criminals.

About 80 percent of the prisoners in city jails are awaiting trial, Morello said.

That concerns advocates who feel immigrants tagged by the feds can be found innocent yet remain behind bars indefinitely.

ICE did not provide details of its Rikers Island operation. Morello, however, said agents have access to the immigrants.

Rosheuvel charges agents sometimes pose as lawyers to "hoodwink" immigrants into telling them their status.