DENVER - A rapidly expanding federal program that identifies illegal immigrants when they're arrested and fingerprinted became operational in Denver and in El Paso and Arapahoe counties on Tuesday.
Colorado Department of Public Safety spokesman Lance Clem said Secure Communities was launched in the three jurisdictions, the pilot sites in the state for the program. Colorado is the 39th state to join the program, which is active in more than 1,000 jurisdictions in the country, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which operates Secure Communities.
The initiative was launched in 2007 and ICE has said it hopes to have it in every jail in the country by 2013.
The program checks arrestee's fingerprints against FBI and Department of Homeland Security databases to determine the person's legal status and arrest record.
Critics argue it creates an incentive for racial profiling. Opponents say that because people's fingerprints are checked upon arrest, immigrants can be placed in deportation proceedings even if charges are ultimately dismissed or they're not convicted of a crime. Denver Mayor Bill Vidal calls it "worrisome" and said it should be monitored closely.
Former Gov. Bill Ritter directed Colorado's Department of Public Safety to sign an agreement with ICE in January to implement the program. It was one Ritter's last acts in office.
The sheriffs' and police chiefs' associations told Ritter they supported the program, but several dozen groups and officials also sent Ritter letters of opposition. Ritter said the program would improve public safety.
David Venturella, the Secure Communities assistant director, said in a statement the program's mission is to identify criminals who are in the country illegally.
"Our goal is to use biometric information sharing to remove criminal aliens, preventing them from being released back into the community, with little or no additional burden on our law enforcement partners," he said in the statement.