Do booking officers check immigration status?

Many cities participate in the federal "Secure Communities" program, which allows the Department of Homeland Security to review immigration records of every booked arrestee.


If an immigrant is arrested does the booking officer check their immigration status?


In many cities, the answer is yes, although booking or other jailhouse officers don’t perform the actual check. Instead, they send an arrestee’s fingerprints, which are routinely collected during booking, to the FBI (a process that has been in place for decades). The FBI in turn sends them to “ICE” (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement). This information-sharing program, overseen by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), goes by the name “Secure Communities.”  

When ICE receives the fingerprints, they automatically check them against their databases, looking to see whether the individual is unlawfully in the United States or is otherwise removable due to an existing criminal conviction. A DHS officer, not a local or state policeman, makes the decision as to whether the Department should investigate. The DHS claims to prioritize removal actions based on a person’s threat to public safety, as shown by the individual’s criminal history, the severity of the immigration violation, and whether the individual has repeatedly violated immigration laws.

Not every state or locality is participating in Secure Communities, however. According to ICE, as of September 27, 2011, the program is active in 1,595 jurisdictions (that is, cities or other localities) in 44 states and territories. ICE plans nationwide participation by 2013. Not surprisingly, ICE has 100% participation in large border states (Arizona, California, Florida, New Mexico, and Texas), as well as Delaware, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Puerto Rico.

If ICE determines that enforcement proceedings may be in order, they will place a “hold,” or a detainer, on the arrestee. The jail will hold the individual up to an additional 48 hours (excluding weekends) past the time that the individual would otherwise have been bailed out or released on his or her own recognizance (“OR”). This allows ICE to send someone to interview the person. After conducting the interview, ICE determines whether to initiate removal proceedings.

You can learn more about Secure Communities on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website. To learn whether the program is active in your locality, start with ICE’s Activated Jurisdiction report.

by: , Attorney

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