Agencies barred from using federal database for verification

12:23 AM, Apr. 9, 2012

Written by
Raju Chebium

WASHINGTON — Thirty Alabama counties that are barred from setting up an immigration-verification system for jail inmates may be able to do so next year.

“Our intent is to have Secure Communities in place universally throughout the country — which, of course, will include Alabama — by 2013,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told Gannett reporters in a conference call Thursday.

Napolitano said the Justice Department’s lawsuit against Alabama’s immigration law must be resolved before the Obama administration decides whether to lift the restrictions on the 30 counties.

Secure Communities is a Homeland Security program that allows the agency to check the fingerprints of people arrested by state and local authorities against federal immigration databases. Undocumented people are subject to eventual deportation.

The administration allowed 37 Alabama counties to implement Secure Communities before last summer, when the Justice Department sued to block HB 56, Alabama’s law targeting illegal immigrants.

The Alabama Homeland Security Department didn’t respond to requests Friday for a list of counties blocked from implementing Secure Communities.

The Alabama immigration law is virtually identical to an Arizona anti-illegal immigration law. The Supreme Court hears arguments in the Arizona case April 25 and is expected to rule by July. That decision could validate or nullify the administration’s suit targeting the Alabama law.

Both laws require local law enforcement officers to verify the immigration status of drivers during routine traffic stops. Federal courts have blocked that portion of Alabama’s law.

Alabama’s congressional delegation, with the exception of the sole Democrat, Rep. Terri Sewell, have pressed Napolitano to enact Secure Communities in all 67 counties.

In a letter last month, Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions and Reps. Robert Aderholt, Mike Rogers, Spencer Bachus, Jo Bonner and Martha Roby demanded that the administration do so by March 15. The administration ignored the demand.

The lawmakers accused the administration of reneging on assurances given to Alabama Homeland Security chief Spencer Collier that Secure Communities would be in place throughout the state by the end of November.

They also criticized the administration for refusing to expand a related training program called Section 287(g), under which some Alabama law enforcement officers would enforce immigration laws.

There was no “legitimate reason” for either omission, the Alabama Republicans wrote in a Feb. 14 letter to Napolitano.

“Your department’s decision to cease assisting Alabama in the removal of dangerous illegal aliens is wholly inconsistent with this administration’s stated position of focusing on the removal of those very individuals,” they wrote.

Meanwhile, Secure Communities has come under fire and the Section 287(g) program is being shut down.

Last year, a Homeland Security advisory council said Secure Communities needs to be overhauled to fix problems that have led to mistaken deportations, but the administration wants to expand the program.

The administration has begun shutting down the 287(g) programs to save money and because of lack of interest. The program also has been criticized for leading to racial profiling.

Under President George W. Bush, 60 local agencies signed up for 287(g). Only eight have signed up since August 2010. Alabama officials said the number would be higher if their state’s agencies were allowed to take part.

USA Today reporter Alan Gomez contributed to this report.

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