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NBC News: High-Tech Dragnet Tactics Lead to Racial Profiling of Immigrants

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The Criminal Alien Removal Initiative (CARI) is a little-known ICE enforcement program that we’ve been hearing about in places like New Orleans for the last several months.  ICE says that immigrants who are arrested get their fingerprints scanned, and agents determine if that person is a deportation priority.  Immigration and civil liberties advocates say that that claim is backwards: ICE agents set up checkpoints where they run checks on all immigrants and Latinos who happen to be caught up in the dragnet — even if there is no reasonable suspicion for stopping those people — and detain and deport them if their immigration status is found wanting.

Advocates say the system is tantamount to racial profiling, and funneling immigrants into a deportation system where long-time residents are removed, and parents are separated from their families.  ICE’s deportation priorities apparently now include those who have past deportation orders and those who have re-crossed the border (back into the US, to reunite with their families) after being deported.  According to Jessica Karp, an attorney with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, these deportation priorities “ironically are people who have the strongest ties to this country.  The people that come back often have family here.”

An NBC News story by Hannah Rappleye and Lisa Riordan Seville today has more about the CARI checkpoints and what they mean for the immigrant communities they affect:

Critics say that Jefferson Parish is a prime example of how such partnerships and tools have led to widespread abuses. Civil libertarians and advocates for immigrants charge that Latinos, including legal residents, are being stopped for dubious reasons and their biometric data collected, and that the drive to catch criminal aliens is leading to the deportation of long-term residents without criminal records and with deep ties to the U.S…

In 2011 the agency announced it would focus on deporting violent or convicted criminals, and immigrants who posed a threat to national security. The new targets included returned deportees, as well as “immigrant fugitives,” meaning immigrants who failed to appear for a court date. In 2012, ICE launched a program called the Criminal Alien Removal Initiative, or CARI, to capture those targets.

ICE found willing partners for its deportation strategy in local law enforcement agencies, many of which had their own handheld biometric devices with instant access to databases. Across the country, federal agents have joined with local police departments to find and deport “criminal aliens.”

Some partnerships with ICE are unofficial, like the cooperation between the agency and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, and revealed via court documents and FOIA requests. Others, including task forces in various border communities, are official and public. Police departments in the San Diego area, for example, share facial recognition data with ICE as part of a county-wide program. And under ICE’s “Secure Communities” program, every locality in the U.S. is required to ship arrest data on criminal defendants to the feds to check for immigration offenses.

But even the officials who oversee ICE have expressed worries that the local police will misuse their access to biometric data. According to a 2010 memo obtained by immigration activists via the Freedom of Information Act, officials from the Privacy office of the Department of Homeland Security, the parent agency of ICE, had “concerns” that if access to the federal IDENT database was expanded, local police could “misuse” the information and engage in “profiling.”

“They believe that LE (law enforcement] Officers would be able to phish for information contained within IDENT,” said the memo.

Raul Pinto, staff attorney for the North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, charges that those predictions of racial profiling came true in his state, where he says both undocumented immigrants and legal residents were detained at traffic checkpoints.

“We saw local law enforcement agencies stopping people who look Latino because they think they may be undocumented and fit the profile that the ICE fugitive ops are looking for,” Pinto said. “That runs afoul of constitutional protections. A violation of the Fourth Amendment is a violation of your civil rights, whether you’re undocumented or not.”

Read the full story at NBC News here.