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Protesters demand end to fingerprint sharing program 'Secure Communities'

August 15, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Angry protesters on Monday night demanded an end to a fingerprint sharing program they say is unfairly targeting undocumented residents.

About 200 people walked out of a meeting by a federal government task force in protest over a program that gives immigration officials access to the fingerprints of arrestees.

The Department of Homeland Security assembled a group of law enforcement and community leaders to make recommendations on ways to improve the so-called Secure Communities program.

The meeting was aimed at getting public input on the program at a time when a number of states - including Illinois and Massachusetts - have said they want nothing to do with it.

Isaura Garcia, a victim of domestic violence, fought back tears as she pleaded with the task force to help end the program.

Garcia said she never would have called police to report her boyfriend's abuse had she known she was going to be deported for being in the country illegally.

Jonathan Perez was arrested at college protest.

"I was flagged and put in an ICE detainer, which meant I was going to be in jail for 48 hours regardless if I had been convicted or not," Perez said.

The program is supposed to target immigrants who commit serious crimes, but protesters say people with minor offenses are also being deported.

"My mom wasalready put in the process of deportation and my brothers were the only ones who were feeling they were able to come to me, and when that happened they were also taken away from me, making my family completely divided," Rigoberto Barboza said.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement that it has recently developed additional training for local law enforcement along with a new policy to protect domestic violence victims. ICE is running the program in 44 states and plans to achieve nationwide coverage in 2013.

"The program is not going to be eliminated," said Gary Mead of ICE. "It is a critical part of our overall immigration strategy. It does make communities safer."

ICE said that since the program started 86,000 criminal undocumented aliens have been removed from the U.S. and more than half of them were convicted of felonies.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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