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Identifying illegal immigrants just got easier
Federal authorities now sharing fingerprint data with Hall
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Federal immigration authorities have started sharing biometric information with authorities in Hall and Whitfield counties to help identify criminal immigrants.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a division of the Homeland Security Department, began sharing the information, which includes fingerprint data, with the two North Georgia counties Wednesday.

"This better enhances our ability to check the status of illegal immigrants that are booked at the Hall County Jail," said Col. Jeff Strickland, spokesman for the Hall County Sheriff's Office.

"They're going to do it in a number of places, but I guess they started it in Whitfield and Hall because we have the latest ICE equipment that is out right now."

ICE says it is part of an initiative, called Secure Communities, which is already in effect in Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett and Muscogee counties.

The program allows fingerprint information of those arrested to be checked against FBI criminal history records and biometrics-based immigration records kept by the Department of Homeland Security.

Biometric information can include data such as DNA, voice patterns and hand measurements.

Previously, fingerprints were just checked against the Department of Justice's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System kept by the FBI.

The initiative seeks to improve and modernize the identification and removal of illegal immigrants convicted of a crime from the United States, federal officials said.

If fingerprints match those of someone in Homeland Security's system, the automated process notifies ICE, which evaluates each case to determine the individual's immigration status and takes appropriate enforcement action.

ICE will respond by placing priority on illegal immigrants convicted of the most serious crimes, officials said.

"The Secure Communities strategy provides ICE with an effective tool to identify criminal aliens in local custody," Secure Communities Assistant Director David Venturella said.

"Enhancing public safety is at the core of ICE's mission. Our goal is to use biometric information sharing to remove criminal aliens, preventing them from being released back into the community, with little or no additional burden on our law enforcement partners."

ICE is using the system in 685 jurisdictions in 33 states.

By 2013, ICE plans to be able to respond nationwide to all fingerprint matches through the initiative.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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