With a roll of a finger law enforcement can lock your prints into a database.
"State law says that when we arrest somebody essentially we have to fingerprint them. We in fact do that and they're sent to the repository," Burlington Deputy Police Chief Andi Higbee said.
That state repository then shares the fingerprints with the FBI. In Vermont that used to be where the process stopped. But Tuesday federal authorities gave the go-ahead for the FBI to automatically send that information to U.S. immigration officials. It's called the Secure Communities Program and it's already operational in most of the country. The feds say it's designed to aid the deportation of illegal immigrants who commit crimes here, with a priority given to the most dangerous criminals.
"We're always afraid, we're always in a corner, we're always in the shadows. We always live in fear," Danilo Lopez said.
Lopez-- a former undocumented dairy worker who's lived in Vermont for four years-- opposes the program. He's part of an advocacy group called Migrant Justice. He and his colleagues say this program will lead to the deportation of many migrant workers convicted of minor offenses, not violent crimes.
"This program is billed and advertised as targeting the most dangerous criminals, but that's absolutely not true," Lopez said. "We feel that this program really criminalizes the immigrant community as a whole and in Vermont it could result in more deportations and really what that means for Vermont is a big impact on the agriculture."
But a spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement say Secure Communities is "... the single most valuable tool in allowing the agency to eliminate the ad hoc approach of the past and focus on criminal aliens and repeat immigration law violators."
Over the last three years, ICE has helped deport more than 135,000 convicted criminal aliens; one-third for violent offenses like murder, rape and sexual abuse of children. But advocates in Vermont are outraged that the public was not informed before this federal mandate was rolled out. They say it reverses the progress the state has made in bias-free policing. They also fear it will prevent victims and witnesses of crime from coming forward.
"In the migrant immigrant community word spreads out fast. If Secure Communities comes to place and people end up deported after contact with police, a lot of that trust is compromised," said Natalia Fajardo of Migrant Justice.
"We would hope it wouldn't bar anyone from bringing information forward to help us solve crime," Higbee said.
In Burlington, police say they never fingerprint or question victims or witnesses of crime and S-COMM won't change that.
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