Gov. Bill Ritter (D-Colorado) said the state has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) that would allow local communities to run the fingerprints of alleged criminals through state and federal websites to determine citizenship status.
Immigrant rights groups have complained the move was a "mass deportation program masking as a public safety issue." Ritter says Colorado took steps to ensure civil rights and state laws were respected in the agreement with the immigration agency.
"Secure Communities is an effective law enforcement tool that will fill a gap in state, local and federal enforcement and help us overcome well-recognized challenges in our public safety network," Ritter said in a statement released Tuesday morning.
During a news conference after the released of his statement, the governor says he had listened to immigrant rights advocates and was convinced the agreement would provide a greater level of transparency and accountability as a result.
Critics held a rally outside the State Capitol to decry Ritter's decision on Tuesday. Jessie Ulibarri with the Colorado chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said the decision "sends the message our civil rights and our civil liberties will be sacrificed."
He said the policy would do nothing to protect Colorado as it determines immigration status at the time of arrest, not at the time of conviction.
Colorado's sheriffs' and police chiefs' associations recommended Ritter join 35 other states in participating in the program.
The issue of Colorado's involvement in Secure Communities became public after Francis M. Hernandez killed two women and a 3-year-old in an ice cream store car crash. Hernandez had been arrested multiple times but avoided deportation and ICE because he used aliases and there was no database for authorities to check his fingerprints against existing law enforcement records.
Ritter's decision drew mixed reaction from Colorado's delegation on Capitol Hill. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colorado) said it would "help protect our neighborhoods," while Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) said the decision would "result in an increase in crime and tear apart the fabric of our communities."
Congress has set aside $1.4 billion to expand Secure Communities and ICE is hoping to have it operational in every American jail by 2013.
(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)