8/16 – AP – Georgia rally protests of ICE fingerprint program – Beaumont Enterprise

Georgia rally protests of ICE fingerprint program – Beaumont Enterprise.

ATLANTA (AP) — Chanting and waving signs, about a dozen people on Tuesday protested a program that gives federal immigration authorities access to fingerprints, which could lead to more deportations.

The demonstration in Atlanta was one of several planned at Democratic Party offices around the country as part of a national day of action. The groups are calling for an end the Secure Communities program which allows the FBI to share fingerprints with Homeland Security to identify illegal immigrants accused of crimes. Local law enforcement agencies routinely send fingerprints to the FBI for criminal background checks when an individual is arrested.

Organizers in Atlanta want President Barack Obama to keep his promises of comprehensive immigration reform.

“President Obama must hear from Georgia Democrats what it is like as the country is facing a hateful crisis over failed immigration policies and broken promises,” said Adelina Nicholls, executive director of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, which organized the demonstration.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has said the Secure Communities program simplifies information-sharing between local and federal law enforcement agencies and is meant to identify illegal immigrants accused of committing crimes.

Opponents say it can lead to the detention of illegal immigrants arrested during the investigation of minor violations and erodes their trust in police. They have also criticized the administration for giving the impression that local governments could choose whether to participate when the program is actually mandatory.

ICE is currently running the program in 44 states and plans to achieve nationwide coverage in 2013. It’s in place in 43 of Georgia’s 159 counties. Georgia’s seven Republican congressmen have been pushing ICE to roll out the program more quickly in the state, saying Georgia should be a priority because of its relatively high estimated number of illegal immigrants.

Georgia Democratic Party officials welcomed the demonstrators Tuesday and said they’d pass on a petition bearing 439 signatures collected in the state to the president.

“I wish there was more we could do at the state level,” state Democratic Party Chairman Michael Berlon said. “This is really a federal issue but we’ll make sure that we pass this on.”

Berlon pointed out that state Democrats are planning a “Hope and Unity rally” next week, in part to express dissatisfaction with a law cracking down on illegal immigration signed this year by Republican Gov. Nathan Deal. Most parts of that law entered into effect July 1, but two parts were blocked by a federal judge until a lawsuit challenging the law’s constitutionality can be settled. The state on Monday appealed that ruling.

Rallies to call for an end to Secure Communities were also planned Tuesday at Democratic Party offices in Chicago, Houston, Boston, Miami and Charlotte, N.C.

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