Thursday, November 27, 2003

Four senior senators say efforts by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to expand the amount of critical immigration-related data being given to state and local police agencies are proceeding at a “snail’s pace.”

The sharing of immigration information by the agency, including data on criminal aliens, was considered key to a renewed effort by the government to better guard against terrorists.

Republican Sens. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, John Cornyn of Texas and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, and Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, said in a letter this week to Homeland Security Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson and ICE boss Michael J. Garcia that they were “critically concerned” that promises made by the bureau about information availability were not being kept.

They said the bureau had committed to upgrading the system and making data readily available through the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), but noted that the majority of information being shared with state and local authorities had not been updated.

“State and local police are accustomed to checking for criminal information in the NCIC database, which takes just minutes and is routinely performed during traffic stops and routine duties,” they said. “The promise made by ICE to expand the amount of immigration-related information in the NCIC is one that we, as members of Congress, strongly support.”

NCIC is a computerized index of criminal justice information available to state and local authorities, including criminal records, information on fugitives, a listing of stolen properties and reports on missing persons.

“We agree that partnerships between ICE and other law enforcement agencies are essential to immigration law enforcement and that providing state and local law enforcement with timely access to immigration-related information is essential for those partnerships to flourish,” the senators said.

ICE was supposed to provide state and local law enforcement personnel with current information on felons who have been ordered deported, alien absconders, the status of foreigners in the country who have registered through the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), immigration-law violators, and aliens with outstanding criminal warrants.

The senators said that while ICE repeatedly has said that substantial progress has been made on the NCIC entry of an estimated 450,000 alien absconders — illegal aliens who have final deportation orders against them but who cannot be located — only 15,200 had been entered into the system as of Oct. 31.

Under the NSEERS program, foreign visitors are fingerprinted at the border and those prints are checked against fingerprints from people wanted for felonies in the United States and from thousands of known terrorists — a process that takes less than three minutes.

The senators said that out of 138,000 foreign nationals from 151 countries who had registered with NSEERS, 11 were linked to terrorism, 129 criminals were identified and nearly 13,000 were charged with violating immigration laws.

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