Controversial Immigration Program to Be Activated in NY Next Week, Sources Say

Fingerprints collected by the New York Police Department and submitted to the FBI will be shared with immigration officials once a controversial federal program opposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo and other city officials is activated in the state next week, according to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official.

Cuomo withdrew New York from the Secure Communities program last June, noting that it failed to meet its stated goal to “deport serious felons.”

But after some contradicting statements related to whether the program was mandatory, the Department of Homeland Security’s principal investigative arm, ICE, said last year states could not opt-out of the program and that it would be implemented nationwide by 2013, rendering the governor’s decision ineffective.

The program has already been activated in 50 percent of the state, including Nassau, Dutchess and Westchester counties.

On Tuesday, the rest of the state, including New York City, will become a part of the program.

 “Secure Communities has proven to be the single most valuable tool in allowing the agency to eliminate the ad hoc approach of the past and focus on criminal aliens and repeat immigration law violators,” an ICE spokesman said in a statement.

According to ICE, Secure Communities has helped ICE remove more than 135,000 convicted criminal aliens including more than 49,000 convicted of major violent offenses like murder, rape and the sexual abuse of children. 

Critics of the program argued that it ensnared victims of domestic violence, individuals with no criminal record and low-level offenders.

Immigration advocates, who applauded Cuomo’s decision last summer, expressed dissatisfaction with the decision made by ICE.

“We are very concerned about the Department of Homeland Security’s insistence on moving forward in light of the strong opposition against it,” said Jackie Esposito, director of Immigration Advocacy at the New York Immigration Coalition.

Esposito said the changes ICE made to the Secure Communities program, after it was criticized, were not substantial. According to its new policy, for example, the agency will take into its custody individuals arrested solely for minor traffic violations only if they are convicted.

Department of Homeland Security said last year that state and local jurisdictions could not terminate their participation in Secure Communities because it is essentially an information-sharing program between two federal agencies: the FBI and DHS.

That means the fingerprints local law enforcement agencies, such as the NYPD, submit to the FBI for routine criminal history checks will also be shared with DHS and checked against immigration databases. If ICE decides an arrested individual is of interest, the agency determines what enforcement action to take.

A spokesman for the Governor’s office said they were monitoring the developments around the program.