Local News

Wake deputies get access to immigration records

Posted November 12, 2008 2:53 p.m. EST
Updated November 12, 2008 6:05 p.m. EST

— The Wake County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday was given full access to a database that will help deputies tell whether a person booked for a crime is an illegal immigrant.

The process, which uses an individual’s fingerprints, automatically checks the criminal and immigration history of all individuals booked, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Under the current system, fingerprints have been checked against the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System to obtain information about a person’s criminal history. The new technology will simultaneously check the Automated Biometric Identification System, which contains immigration records, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in announcing the system was available to Wake deputies.

If a person’s fingerprints match those of a non-U.S. citizen, the information will automatically be sent to ICE’s Law Enforcement Support Center, where staff will then evaluate the case and take action, if needed, officials said.

Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said he looks forward to using the technology at the Wake County Detention Center, which processes 35,000 people each year.

“If there were some slipping through the cracks, we're hoping now that we'll be able to pick those people up. We don't know that there were, but now we have this equipment in place now that we can tell pretty quickly if they are lying to us,” Harrison said.

Wake County is the first of four law enforcement agencies in the state to receive the capability. The Gaston, Buncombe and Henderson county sheriffs’ offices will begin receiving the full technology next week.

The four counties were part of seven sites nationwide that participated in a pilot version of the database. During the pilot program the sites received limited immigration histories.

If the program is introduced nationwide officials said it would cost about $3 billion annually and result in the deportation of 700,000 people a year.

Advocates for the Latino community are concerned about the program.

“If you're not Latino chances are you're not going to get brought into a police station. Whereas if you are Latino chances are you will be brought in. So it's not the same, not everybody is really getting checked. It's really a discriminatory system, if you will,” said Tony Asion, director of advocacy group El Pueblo.