A high-tech program that allows the York County Sheriff's Office to combat illegal immigration by checking the status of those booked in its jail and flag them for immigration officials just got better.
For three years, the sheriff's office has checked the status of those arrested against the Department of Justice's database as part of the 287-G program, in partnership with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
The sheriff's office was the state's first to unveil this program, in October 2007. It allows officials to submit suspected illegal immigrants' fingerprints and pictures to a system called IDENT.
Since then, 1,037 "criminal aliens" - those in the country illegally who have been suspected of committing a crime in York County - have been deported to 22 countries, including Russia, Greece, Jamaica, Mexico and Guatemala, said Sheriff Bruce Bryant.
York County officials on Thursday unveiled a more comprehensive complement to this program called Secure Communities, which allows fingerprint biometric records to be checked against the Department of Homeland Security's information submitted by the FBI. This checks criminal history and immigration status information in Homeland Security's database, in addition to the Department of Justice's records.
"287-G has been a phenomenal program throughout the country," Bryant said. "It does what it set out to do - deport those in the country illegally committing crimes in York County.
"The new system upgrade adds another tool we can use to identify individuals. With the broader database, there's a better chance of finding out immigration status and criminal history of an individual from elsewhere in country. It all goes back to securing our country."
Both the new Secure Communities updates and the 287-G program are federally funded, said Bryant, adding the new system's enhancements will improve information sharing between ICE, the FBI and state and local law enforcement agencies.
"The increased capabilities will aid us in reaching our common goal of a safer community for all our citizens," he said.
Since 2007, the sheriff's office has checked the immigration status of everyone booked in the detention center in York County on a criminal offense, even those arrested by other local agencies and transferred to the Moss Justice Center in York, said Lt. Mike Baker.
"We're not looking for criminal aliens," Baker said. "They need to be brought in for an offense first."
Everyone is asked three questions before being fingerprinted, said Cpl. Bryan Tucker, one of five York County detention center employees ICE trained and certified.
What country are you a citizen of?
Where were you born?
Are you in the United States legally?
Fingerprints are checked against the expanded databases, which show officials photos and records of alias names for the individual. Detention center officials know quickly if the status of the inmate is in question, Tucker said.
Then the inmate is interviewed, and if it is determined the inmate is in the country illegally, the immigration process is started, he said.
Those flagged for deportation must first answer to the charges that brought them to jail and serve the time sentenced before being removed from the country.
In York County, the offenses with which these subjects have been charged range from traffic violations and driving under the influence to burglary and robbery as well as other offenses.
Of the 1,037 deported, 164 were convicted of felonies, Baker said. Seventy-seven of those deported after being identified by York County have previously been removed from the country.
Everyone no matter their ethnicity or background is screened through the same process, Bryant said.
"It's not a Hispanic problem, like what comes to people's minds when they talk about illegal immigration," he said. "We check the immigration status of everyone in the jail. They are not targeted by the color of their skin or the way he talks or anything else."
York County is one of seven in the state and 685 jurisdictions in the country using the Secure Communities strategy. Not all of those agencies are also involved in 287-G.