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Staring down a roomful of sheriffs in a Fort Lauderdale hotel last week, Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano played to the audience: Illegal immigrants won't have an easy time under the Obama administration, she promised.
"Make no mistake about it. We are a law enforcement department. We will enforce the nation's immigration laws," Napolitano said.
She wasn't kidding. New statistics obtained by Riptide show an Obama program linking local law agencies to an immigration crackdown has made life difficult for illegals in Miami-Dade.
In January, Miami-Dade and eight other Florida counties joined a handful of others around the nation in a trial run of a new program called "Secure Communities." Whenever anyone is booked into jail, that person's fingerprints are run through a database of illegal aliens with criminal records. If there's a match, the feds are notified.
Since the program began in January, 8,407 illegal aliens have been nabbed. That's one in every seven people booked into jails. Can you say "profiling"?
It's unclear what happened to those people. The federal government says it focuses only on aliens who've been convicted of felonies and violent crimes. Less than 10 percent fell into that category. "We're trying to remove or incarcerate the most dangerous criminal aliens," says Nicole Navas, a Miami spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
But the agency has the power to detain anyone — including those 7,620 with less serious records caught so far in Florida. That's a big problem, says Charu al-Sahli, statewide director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center. "Whether innocent or guilty, they're going to be run through this system," al-Sahli says. "We all agree with the goal of getting violent criminals off the street, but in practice, we're going to see a lot of people deported over insignificant crimes."