Fingerprint-Sharing Program Increases Immigrant Mistrust of NYPD

After the controversial Secure Communities information-sharing system between police and immigration authorities went into effect in New York City on May 15 without much fanfare, we have been keeping an eye out for stories from the ethnic and community media on how it has played out in immigrant communities.

Renée Feltz’s piece in The Indypendent looks at how the program, which uses police fingerprints to identify undocumented immigrants, has made relations between immigrants and police increasingly tense, and her article cites advocates who say that the NYPD has stepped up patrols in immigrant neighborhoods.

In New York State, federal agents at Immigration and Customs Enforcement have identified at least 2,100 immigrants eligible for deportation, though no data is available as to whether any of them were deported, she reports.

Advocates working in the city’s five boroughs say anecdotal evidence already shows ICE is asking officers at NYPD’s local precincts to place “detainers” on immigrants they arrest. Public defenders report seeing people arrive for arraignment in criminal courts with “ICE holds” placed on them before they see a judge. They say detainers can affect whether a judge decides to grant bail or send a person to pre-trial diversionary programs such as drug treatment.

Even NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly has said of Secure Communities, “We prefer that they not do that here.” Advocates say the program prompts fear among immigrants who would otherwise approach police for help or to report a crime, since they too could find themselves fingerprinted in the process and brought to ICE’s attention. The impact is even greater in communities where the NYPD is already widely distrusted.

In the heavily immigrant borough of Queens, residents have long been subject to arrest by overzealous police officers for failing to have proper identification. Now, they report increased surveillance via mobile police precincts set up at night in Jackson Heights and Corona. Advocates say police have also stepped up their patrols in parks near Elmhurst Hospital where day laborers often sleep overnight to avoid paying for housing so they can save money to send home to their families.

The immigrant advocacy group New Immigrant Community Empowerment holds trainings to practice interaction with police. (Photo via The Indypendent)

The implementation of Secure Communities has galvanized advocate groups to step up and help immigrants.

New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), a Jackson Heights-based immigrant support group that works with newly arrived low-wage undocumented workers, conducts role-playing trainings with its members to practice how to interact with police. Many members have consular ID cards which officers think are fake, so the group also issues its own ID cards.

“When an officer sees they have a NICE ID they’ll stop harassing that person and let them go,” says Valaria Treves, NICE’s executive director. “They’re looking for the most vulnerable individual they can find. If they see they’re tied to a community organization they move on to the next person.”

Secure Communities has assisted the government in deporting over 1.1 million people during President Obama’s first three years in office, almost twice the rate under President Bush.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has said that the City Council will draft legislation to limit the NYPD’s interaction with ICE, The Indypendent reports, noting “It is a promise advocates are watching closely.”

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