NASHVILLE, Tennessee – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security plans to unveil an information-sharing program next month to give local law enforcement access to federal immigration data.
Robert Mocny, acting director of the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program, said Homeland Security and the FBI are working to electronically combine their records on criminal and immigration offenders.
"Come September, we will be announcing the first initiative of the interoperability program where more and more of state and local law enforcement agencies will have more and more access to (immigration) information," Mocny said on a panel discussing immigration issues at the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures last week.
"Interoperability" is the technical term officials use to describe the ability of emergency responders, including firefighters and police, to talk to one another on their radios within the same city, and across multiple cities and regions.
"What we hope this program will do is provide that one-stop shop, where you'll see that person's criminal and immigration history," he said.
Mocny said information sharing can be complicated by privacy concerns, and that interaction with state and local law enforcement will be handled by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The US-VISIT program collects biometric information like fingerprints and digital photographs from foreigners seeking entry into the United States. The system is in place in 311 air and sea ports and U.S. consulates abroad, Mocny said.
The program has led to the arrests of more than 1,350 wanted criminals, or people using false papers trying to enter the country.
Those arrested include "murderers in California, drug couriers in Florida and an illegal alien who was in federal penitentiary and escaped," Mocny said.
Mocny acknowledged that greater information sharing "sounds like something that should have been done long ago." But technological and administrative hurdles prevented much of that information sharing until the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he said.
The US-VISIT program applies to travelers between the ages of 14 and 79.