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RICHMOND — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that its Secure Communities initiative now has been activated in every county in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
This biometric information-sharing strategy enables ICE to identify any alien booked into local law enforcement’s custody for a crime. This is part of ICE’s strategy to improve and modernize the identification of criminal aliens and their removal from the United States.
"This is a step in the right direction to address the criminal aliens in the Twin County area,” said Grayson County Sheriff Richard Vaughan.
Formerly, during the booking process, arrestees' fingerprints were checked for criminal history information only against the biometric database maintained by the FBI. With the implementation of Secure Communities, this fingerprint information is now automatically and simultaneously checked against both the FBI criminal history records and the biometrics-based immigration records maintained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
If any fingerprints match those of someone in the DHS biometric system, the new automated process notifies ICE, according to a press release from DHS.
ICE evaluates each case to determine the individual's immigration status and takes appropriate enforcement action. This includes aliens who are in lawful status and those who are present without lawful authority.
Once identified through fingerprint matching, ICE will respond. Aliens convicted of the most serious offenses — such as those with convictions for major drug offenses, murder, rape and kidnapping — take first priority for deportation.
“The Secure Communities strategy provides an effective tool to help ICE identify aliens in the criminal custody of law enforcement with little or no cost to our law enforcement partners,” said John Morton, assistant secretary for ICE. “Applying this biometric information-sharing tool in Virginia improves public safety by enabling ICE to prevent the release of convicted criminal aliens back into our communities.”
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said this system “enables criminal aliens to be identified at the time they are booked in a jail anywhere in Virginia, and those convicted of serious crimes can be prioritized for deportation after serving their sentences.”
Since ICE began using this enhanced information-sharing capability in October 2008, immigration officers have removed from the United States more than 8,500 criminal aliens convicted of Level 1 crimes, such as murder, rape and kidnapping.
Additionally, ICE has removed more than 22,200 criminal aliens convicted of Level 2 and 3 crimes, including burglary and serious property crimes, which account for the majority of crimes committed by aliens.
ICE does not regard aliens charged with, but not yet convicted of, crimes, as "criminal aliens," according to the press release. Instead, a "criminal alien" is an alien convicted of a crime.