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 BlueServo.net 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.”
TAKE A LOOK AT SOME OF THE HARSHEST ANTI-UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRATION LAWS IN THE U.S.:
The Template: California Proposition 187 (1994)
California's Proposition 187 was submitted to the voters with the full support of then Republican governor Pete Wilson. It essentially blamed undocumented immigrants for the poor performance of the state economy in the early 1990s. The law called for cutting off benefits to undocumented immigrants: prohibiting their access to health care, public education, and other social services in California. It also required state authorities to report anyone who they suspected was undocumented. <strong>Status:</strong> The law passed with the support of 55 percent of the voters in 1994 but declared unconstitutional 1997. The law was killed in 1999 when a new governor, Democrat Gray Davis, refused to appeal a judicial decision that struck down most of the law. Even though short-lived, the legislation paved the way for harsher immigration laws to come. On the other hand, the strong reaction from the Hispanic community and immigration advocates propelled a drive for naturalization of legal residents and created as many as one million new voters.
The Worst: Arizona SB 1070
The Arizona Act made it a misdemeanor for an undocumented immigrant to be within the state lines of Arizona without legal documents allowing their presence in the U.S. The law was widely criticized as xenophobic and for encouraging racial profiling. It required state authorities to inquire about an individual's immigration status during an arrest when there was "reasonable suspicion" that the individual was undocumented. The law would allow police to detain anyone who they believed was in the country illegally. <strong>Status:</strong> The law was signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010, immediately generating a swirl of controversy and questions about its constitutionality. In July 2010 and February 2012, federal judges blocked different provisions of SB 1070, setting the stage for the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/25/sb1070-ruling-supreme-court_n_1614119.html" target="_hplink">the Supreme Court decision of June 25, 2012</a> which struck down multiple provisions but upheld the controversial "papers please" provision, a centerpiece of the law which critics say will lead to racial profiling
Following Arizona's Footsteps: Georgia HB 87
The controversy over Arizona's immigration law was followed by heated debate over Georgia's own law. HB 87 required government agencies and private companies to check the immigration status of applicants. This law also limited some government benefits to people who could prove their legal status. <strong>Status:</strong> Although a federal judge temporarily blocked parts of the law considered too extreme, it went into effect on July 1st. 2011. House: 113-56 Senate: 39-17
Verifying Authorized Workers: Pennsylvania HB 1502
This bill, which was approved in 2010, bans contractors and subcontractors employ undocumented workers from having state construction contracts. The bill also protects employees who report construction sites that hire illegal workers. To ensure that contractors hire legal workers, the law requires employers to use the identification verification system E-verify, based on a compilation of legally issued Social Security numbers. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved on June 8th 2010. House: 188-6 (07/08/2010) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by DonkeyHotey</a>
A Spin Off of Arizona: Utah HB 497
Many states tried to emulate Arizona's SB 1070 law. However, most state legislatures voted against the proposals. Utah's legislature managed to approve an immigration law based on a different argument. Taking into consideration the criticism of racial profiling in Arizona, Utah required ID cards for "guest workers" and their families. In order to get such a card workers must pay a fee and have clean records. The fees go up to $2,500 for immigrants who entered the country illegally and $1,000 for immigrants who entered the country legally but were not complying with federal immigration law, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/06/nation/la-na-illegal-immigration-20110306" target="_hplink">according to the LA Times.</a> <strong>Status: </strong> Law went into effect on 03/15/2011 House: 59-15 (03/04/2011) Senate: 22-5 (03/04/2011)
The Most Comprehensive: Florida HB-1C
Florida's immigration law prohibits any restrictions on the enforcement of federal immigration law. It makes it unlawful for undocumented immigrants within the state to apply for work or work as an independent contractor. It forbids employers from hiring immigrants if they are aware of their illegal status and requires work applicants to go through the E-verify system in order to check their Social Security number. <strong>Status: </strong>effective since October 1st, 2010
The Hot Seat: Alabama HB 56
The new immigration law in Alabama is considered the toughest in the land, even harder than Arizona's SB 1070. It prohibits law enforcement officers from releasing an arrested person before his or her immigration status is determined. It does not allow undocumented immigrants to receive any state benefit, and prohibits them from enrolling in public colleges, applying for work or soliciting work in a public space. The law also prohibits landlords from renting property to undocumented immigrants, and employers from hiring them. It requires residents to prove they are citizens before they become eligible to vote. The law asked every school in the state to submit an annual report with the number of presumed undocumented students, but this part, along with others, were suspended by federal courts. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved June 2nd, 2011 House: 73-28 (04/05/2011) Senate: 23-11 (05/05/2011) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/longislandwins/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by longislandwins</a>