Washington (AP) - Records show that about 47,000 people have been removed or deported from the U.S. after the Homeland Security Department sifted through 3 million sets of fingerprints taken from bookings at local jails.
About one-quarter of those kicked out of the country did not have criminal records, according to government data obtained by immigration advocacy groups that have filed a lawsuit. The groups plan to release the data Tuesday and provided early copies to The Associated Press.
At issue is a fingerprint-sharing program known as Secure Communities that the government says is focused on getting rid of the "worst of the worst" criminal immigrants from the U.S.
Immigration advocates say that the government instead spends too much time on lower-level criminals or non-criminals.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement divides crimes into three categories, with Level 1 being the most serious. Most of those deported committed Level 2 or 3 crimes or were non-criminals, a monthly report of Secure Communities statistics shows.
"ICE has pulled a bait and switch, with local law enforcement spending more time and resources facilitating the deportations of bus boys and gardeners than murderers and rapists and at considerable cost to local community policing strategies, making us all less safe," said Peter Markowitz, director of the Immigration Justice Clinic at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York.
Markowitz's clinic, the National Day Laborer Organizers Network and the Center for Constitutional Rights had requested and sued for the statistics. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released some of the documents late Monday.
Richard Rocha, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman, said non-criminals still may be people who have failed to show up for deportation hearings, who recently crossed the border illegally or who re-entered the country after deportation. He also said it's important to remember that more people commit crimes that are considered Level 2 and 3.
Secure Communities is "a beneficial partnership tool for ICE and state and local law enforcement agencies helping to identify, prioritize and remove convicted criminal aliens not only from the communities, but also from the country," Rocha said.
The Obama administration wants Secure Communities operating nationwide by 2013.
As of Aug. 3, 494 counties and local and state agencies in 27 states were sharing fingerprints from jail bookings through the program.
From October 2008 through June of this year, 46,929 people identified through Secure Communities were removed from the U.S., the documents show. Of those, 12,293 were considered non-criminals.
Records show that about 47,000 people have been removed or deported from the U.S. after the Homeland Security Department sifted through 3 million sets of fingerprints taken from bookings at local jails.