Fingerprint-sharing to spread across Atlanta area

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ATLANTA — A federal fingerprint-sharing program aimed at deporting criminal illegal immigrants is expected to cover all of metro Atlanta by the end of September, according to a newspaper report.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that dozens of Georgia counties are scheduled to join the "Secure Communities" program by September. Forsyth County is set to join Dec. 14.

The screenings are already taking place in Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett, Hall, Muscogee and Whitfield counties. Douglas, Fayette, Henry and other metro-area counties are expected to participate by September. By the end of September 2013, all the state's 159 counties are expected to participate, according to records obtained by the newspaper.

The Secure Communities program is designed to ensure illegal immigrants aren't sent back into their communities after finishing sentences for crimes they committed in the U.S. Immigration officials have said their priority is deporting the most violent criminals.

People are already fingerprinted when they are booked into jail, and local officials routinely check those against prints in state and FBI databases to confirm identities, look for criminal histories and search for outstanding arrest warrants.

Under the Secure Communities program, those fingerprints will also be checked against a database maintained by the U.S. Department of Homeland security. That means local officials won't have to do anything new when they participate.

The newspaper reported that a Nov. 17 letter was sent to seven Republican congressman from Georgia. In the letter, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official said the schedule for rolling out the program is based on ICE's ability to react to fingerprint matches within 24 hours, seven days a week.

"When considering when and where to deploy Secure Communities, in addition to considering high-risk jurisdictions, ICE must also consider its operational capacity," said Elliot Williams, ICE's assistant director for congressional relations.

U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Marietta, said he was not satisfied with the letter. He and six other GOP congressman from Georgia wrote ICE about the pace of its program in October, saying they want the fingerprint checks available across the state as soon as possible.

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