SEATTLE -- A federal program that uses fingerprint analysis to identify illegal immigrants in county jails has been activated in Washington state and Montana ahead of the 2013 nationwide rollout, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said.
The two states join another 32 states where the program known as Secure Communities has gone live statewide. More than 80 percent of the 3,181 jurisdictions needed to go national are now active, according to ICE.
"The nationwide rollout is happening and has been happening," said Andre Munoz, an ICE spokesman in Seattle. "The goal is to have nationwide activation no later than the end of 2013."
Last year, Secure Communities faced opposition from immigrant rights groups and the governors of Massachusetts, Illinois and New York. Immigrant right groups say Secure Communities can discourage immigrants from reporting crimes and can lead to the deportation of people who haven't been convicted of anything.
Eventually, the program was tweaked. ICE changed the program's guidelines to address some concerns. A new policy directs ICE officers and attorneys to use appropriate discretion to make sure victims and witnesses to crimes are not put into deportation proceedings.
But immigrant advocates still say the program is flawed.
"There has been no public announcement, of course, but this is par for the course for this flawed program that has been shrouded in secrecy and misinformation since its inception," Jorge Baron of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project wrote to the group's supporters.
Secure Communities "is a program that in effect turns local law enforcement into immigration agents and furthers the dangerous notion that immigrants are criminals," he wrote.
The program went live in Washington state and Montana on Tuesday.
All counties in Washington state send fingerprints of people booked in county jail to the FBI. Under Secure Communities, the FBI shares those fingerprints with ICE. People who come up as flagged for immigration violations are then held in the jail until ICE officers arrive.