Fingerprinting Of Immigrants Questioned In New Report, Raises Privacy Concerns

Fingerprinting Of Immigrants Stirs Privacy Debate

Police officers have drastically increased their use of fingerprinting technologies to track immigrants and non-criminals, according to a new report. Some immigrants rights groups are speaking out against the new technologies used for immigration enforcement, calling them a violation of privacy.

The report released last week by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Immigration Policy Center, both policy research organizations, claims that day laborers and immigrants are stopped at random, and submitted to fingerprint testing. Jennifer Lynch, who authored the new report, believes that the expansion of biometric data collection programs should raise concerns for the average American.

“These day laborers are not suspected of any criminal activity that we know of,” Lynch told the New American Media. “While most of us would be really suspect if a police officer randomly asked us to submit to a fingerprint scan on the street, when you feel like you have little voice in society and you lack power to challenge authority, I think harassment like this is a big issue.”

Lynch argues in her report that increased legal protections against biometric data collection could benefit not only immigrants, but all people in the U.S.

Earlier this month, the Obama administration expanded the Secure Communities program, a contentious federal initiative which expands the practice of fingerprinting immigrants, into Massachusetts and New York, despite opposition from the governors of those states. Last year, New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo tried to opt out of the program.

"There are concerns about the implementation of the program as well as its impact on families, immigrant communities and law enforcement in New York," Cuomo wrote in a letter to the Department of Homeland Security. "As a result, New York is suspending its participation in the program." The federal government announced shortly after Cuomo's letter that state participation in the program is not voluntary, and that states like New York could not opt out.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesperson Barbara Gonzalez told The New York Times that the program is working. “Secure Communities has proven to be the single most valuable tool in allowing the agency to eliminate the ad hoc approach of the past and focus on criminal aliens and repeat immigration law violators,” Gonzalez said.

But it's not just fingerprinting that's raising concerns -- in recent years, the Department of Homeland Security has tried out a number of new hi-tech solutions to it's immigration enforcement problem. The agency has deployed ten 10,000-pound Predator-B unmanned drones, with a price tag of 250 million dollars, as part of a six year effort to build the nation's largest fleet of domestic surveillance drones. The ACLU called drones "a large step closer to a surveillance society in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded, and scrutinized by the authorities.”

And Texas, where border patrol agents were overwhelmed by the number of migrants attempting to cross their expansive border, established a program in 2008 called to "crowd-source" their challenge. The website describes itself as "an innovative real-time surveillance program designed to empower the public to proactively participate in fighting border crime." Volunteers around the world sit at their computers watching surveillance cameras set up across the Texas-Mexico border, and when the "Virtual Texas Deputies" detect movement on one of these cameras, they report the encounter. When enough reports coincide, border patrol agents are deployed to the location. Although Governor Rick Perry provided $2 million in Criminal Justice grant funds to support the initiative, the El Paso Times reported that the project largely failed to meet its projected goal of 1,200 BlueServo-related arrests in the first year. In the first six months, only three arrests were made, according to the paper.

As new fingerprinting technologies have expanded, enforcement agencies have been asked to justify the practice. Sgt. Rudy Lopez, who works for the Los Angeles Police Department, told the New American Media that his officers routinely use a new portable fingerprint scanner called a "Blue Check" in the field. The technology was introduced in 2008, and has grown in use over the past four years. According to Lopez, police only use the technologies when they have reasonable suspicion, probably cause to make an arrest, or when they have permission of the person that they're stopping.

Immigrant rights advocates say that these are circumstances which violate the privacy of immigrants and open the door for racial profiling of Latinos. Tony Bernade, a senior organizer for CHIRLA, an LA-based immigrant rights group, says that the government is keeping large amounts of private information without substantially justifying the practice.

“They are saving and keeping the data,” Bernade told the New American Media. “Nobody knows how it’s going to be used.”


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