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FBI, Homeland Security defer to each other on criminal immigrants' data

This story was updated to reflect the fact that Republicans late Friday issued subpoenas for the records they are seeking.

The Homeland Security Department and FBI apparently are at odds over which agency is responsible for the criminal records of illegal immigrants. House Republicans on Friday subpoenaed those records for evidence of possible public safety threats.

Some of the desired data is FBI criminal history information shared with DHS as part of a controversial immigrant fingerprinting program. The Secure Communities program allows law enforcement officials to run bureau prints collected by local police against the Homeland Security's IDENT biometric database to identify offenders who are in the country illegally, according to department officials.

DHS officials at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement maintain they only deport the "most dangerous criminal aliens" flagged, such as murderers and rapists. Pro-immigration groups and some Democrats say the program entangles innocents, minor offenders and arrestees whose charges are later dismissed. House Judiciary Committee Republicans, however, say Secure Communities is purposely releasing criminals who become repeat offenders.

The committee's immigration panel on Wednesday moved, in a 7-4 party line vote, to subpoena a list of illegal and criminal immigrants Homeland Security has declined to extradite. Full committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, accused the department of hiding crimes committed by hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens after DHS officials repeatedly stonewalled his calls for the data back in August. Homeland Security missed a Monday deadline to provide the information.

"The American people have a right to know what crimes these 300,000 illegal immigrants committed after ICE intentionally chose not to detain them," he said. "It seems that at every single point in the process there is a new delay involving this request . . . The latest is that I have not been given the list supposedly because the FBI must review it."

DHS officials on Thursday declined to address the question of whether difficulties locating and sorting the information prevented them from responding in time.

"DHS has stated to the committee it would provide the data requested without being compelled by subpoena to do so," Homeland Security spokesman Matthew Chandler said. "DHS is in the process of gathering the data and will provide it when complete."

The ranking Democrat of the Immigration Policy and Enforcement Subcommittee said Wednesday that the FBI has been reluctant to disclose some of the criminal history data requested.

"I don't know what information they have, but if the FBI -- not known as a leader in privacy protection -- has serious concerns, then we should pay attention to that," Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said.

FBI is mandated by federal law to share criminal background data with Homeland Security. In an Oct. 24 letter, Nelson Peacock, assistant secretary for the DHS Legislative Affairs Office, explained to Smith that the data in question is first provided by the FBI. "Under the Secure Communities program, the Federal Bureau of Investigation forwards biometric fingerprint submissions from a state or local booking location to ICE," after which ICE runs the prints against the DHS' biometric database, IDENT, for matches.

When asked whether technical difficulties or IT privacy policies have complicated efforts to supply the committee with information, FBI officials said they defer to DHS for questions pertaining to Secure Communities.

In response to the assertion that the FBI had just deferred to another agency questions about bureau data shared as part of Secure Communities, FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said, "Secure Communities is DHS. FBI maintains criminal history data."

A House Judiciary aide said Homeland Security officials have the data but have been withholding it from the committee.

DHS officials have told the lawmakers that a match made by DHS and FBI computers does not always correspond to a person who can be extradited at Homeland Security's discretion. For instance, naturalized citizens or legal residents that turn up in the FBI's database as criminals are not subject to removal. And several matches may represent only one person, if a criminal alien has been fingerprinted multiple times or arrested for different crimes in the same month.

Between its inception in 2008 and late October, Secure Communities had removed from the United States more than 107,300 convicted immigrants, about 36 percent of whom had been sentenced for murder, rape, child sexual abuse and other aggravated felonies, according to DHS officials.

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