D.C. Sets Limits on Fingerprint Program

The FBI on Tuesday began sharing the fingerprints of people held in District of Columbia jails with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The change did not sit well with the D.C. government. On Tuesday, the D.C. Council moved to limit the District's participation in the federal Secure Communities program that uses fingerprints to help ICE identify illegal immigrants booked into local jails and to deport them.

The legislation would limit to 24 hours the amount of time that jailers can hold a detainee for ICE after that person normally would have been released. The jailers will only do that for people convicted of a "dangerous crime or a crime of violence," and only if the federal government agrees to reimburse the District for the costs of holding that person.

The bill, which awaited the mayor's signature on Wednesday, is expected to become law within days.

Critics have long argued that the Secure Communities program results in the deportation of people arrested for minor crimes and traffic violations. They also complain that it breeds distrust for local law enforcement among immigrant communities, which see local police as proxies for immigration agents.

Earlier this month, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray released a statement expressing his disappointment that the federal government was going to implement the program in Washington.

"In areas like the District that have large immigrant communities, police rely on the trust of those community members that their immigration status will not be threatened by their cooperation in local law-enforcement investigations," he wrote in the statement. "Secure Communities jeopardizes that trust, and consequently makes everybody less safe."

In 2011, Gray signed an executive order directing D.C. police not to detain individuals because of their immigration status.

Virginia and Maryland both participate in the program. According to ICE, 3,594 people convicted of crimes have been deported after being booked into their jails since 2009.

Since 2008, ICE has removed more than 189,700 immigrations nationwide. More than 55 percent of those were deported after being arrested for minor crimes; overstaying a visa or ignoring a deportation order; or returning to the country after being deported. At least 51,600 of those deported through the program had been convicted of major drug offenses, national-security crimes, and violent crimes such as murder, robbery, rape, and kidnapping.

States and other jurisdictions cannot opt out of the program, according to ICE. When state and local authorities arrest someone and run their fingerprints through an FBI database, that information is automatically shared with ICE.

ICE agents then determine whether to ask jails to hold that person until they can come to take them into custody.