Forsyth has joined a handful of other Georgia counties in a federal fingerprinting program aimed at identifying and deporting criminal illegal immigrants.
The program checks the fingerprints of those booked at the Forsyth County Detention Center against a U.S. Department of Homeland Security database, which includes the identities of people who have applied for visas or have been caught entering the country illegally.
According to information provided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, the initiative is part of the Secure Communities strategy to “improve and modernize the identification and removal of aliens convicted of a crime from the United States.”
The local jail began using the program Tuesday.
Sheriff Ted Paxton explained that the local database is now integrated with one the FBI provided that tracks criminal history.
“They have integrated those two databases, so starting [Tuesday] if we arrest someone, regardless of the offense, we take their fingerprints and their fingerprints are now checked against both those databases,” Paxton said. “That will alert us and immigration that we may have a criminal alien.
“This is still not a system designed to just identify people who have entered the country illegally. This is about criminals or people who have been deported.”
Paxton said the database could also flag suspects sought by the federal government for possible involvement in criminal activity.
“In the past, without having access to those databases, there’s always been the possibility that we’ve had somebody come through the jail that they were looking for and nobody knew it,” Paxton said.
The sheriff noted that the spread of the program statewide has been slow. Neighboring Cherokee, Fulton, Gwinnett and Hall counties use it, as do Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Muscogee and Whitfield counties.
Paxton also said those identified through the program will not be deported immediately. Rather, they must serve any sentences they receive before immigration takes action.
All 159 of the state’s counties are expected to be online by the end of September 2013.