Untangling the Immigration Enforcement Web: New NILC Report Looks at Cooperation Between Local Law Enforcement and Federal Agencies

Untangling the Immigration Enforcement Web: New NILC Report Looks at Cooperation Between Local Law Enforcement and Federal Agencies

Sept. 22, 2017

Immigrants are caught in a complex and opaque web of databases, related systems, and information-sharing mechanisms that make it easier for immigration enforcement to disrupt their lives and prevent them from fully participating in economic and social life in the United States.

These databases, systems, and mechanisms often depend on the entanglement of state and local law enforcement or licensing agencies with federal immigration and law enforcement agencies.

Advocates, including NILC, have raised many concerns about how these databases and information-sharing mechanisms work. President Donald Trump’s recent executive orders and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) implementation memos will expand immigration enforcement dramatically without due process protections, increase state and local involvement in immigration enforcement, and undermine federal Privacy Act guarantees.

We took a closer look at these entanglements between immigration and law enforcement and outlined what we found in our new report, Untangling the Immigration Enforcement Web: Basic Information for Advocates about Databases and Information-Sharing Among Federal, State, and Local Agencies. This report describes how some of these databases and information-sharing networks work but also outlines actions local advocates can take to minimize these entanglements.

Below are some highlights of the report:

  • The FBI’s Next Generation Identification database and DHS’s Automated Biometric Identification System are interoperable, meaning fingerprints of an arrested person may be checked against both databases.
  • State and local law enforcement have access to federal databases that contain civil immigration information, while U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has access to local law enforcement databases that allow it to identify immigrants who have been arrested. Jails also often give ICE agents access to jails, along with lists of people being held.
  • Informal contact also exists among all these agencies. An example of this might be a local police officer contacting ICE regarding a stopped driver if they suspect the driver is undocumented.
  • Local, state, and federal gang databases also interact. These databases identify certain people as gang members, often without much reason, and may include photos and other information. ICE even started its own gang database in 2010. Because gang members have long been considered a priority for immigration enforcement, being identified as a gang member or someone who “associates” with gang members can have dramatic consequences for immigrants.
  • Mobile biometrics technologies, such as mobile fingerprinting and iris scans, may be used by ICE agents on people “encountered” during investigations, in violation of legal standards established by the Fourth Amendment, such as probable cause. This can result in so-called “collateral” arrests of people who were not originally targeted. This biometric information is also kept in databases, even for people who were not arrested.
  • ICE has used department of motor vehicles (DMV) records to locate individuals for immigration enforcement purposes and has used DMVs’ technological capacities, such as facial recognition software, to identify and locate targets. ICE has also asked DMVs to “run” license plates at particular addresses in order to determine the identities of residents there.

Though these potentially unconstitutional information-sharing mechanisms are disturbing, there are many ways advocates can fight back, including pressuring local governments to stop these types of cooperation among agencies, alerting media to individual stories of discrimination, filing lawsuits, and more. There are also ways to file complaints directly with the agencies when they improperly use biometrics devices, and local governments should also be asked to ensure that Privacy Act standards apply to noncitizens.

More details on these databases and information-sharing systems—along with more ideas on how to fight back—can be found in the report.