Illegal Immigrants Beware: L.A. Sheriff's Deputies Can Now Run Your Fingerprints in the Field
Secure Communities 2.0?
The L.A. Sheriff's Department is busting with pride over its brand-new fleet of "state-of-the-art mobile data computers" -- the first of which are now installed in the patrol vehicles of a few lucky deputies.
In some ways, the computers are an overdue boot into the 21st century. Turns out deputies have been communicating via dinosauric, fax-speed "terminals" from 1989, and haven't even had access to a GPS system. Yikes. So thankfully, the new mobile computers take care of all that. But not without a Thanksgiving-sized side of creep sauce:
The computers, which set the department back $33 million (guess this county isn't as broke as we thought), can now communicate seamlessly with handheld Blue Check devices to run fingerprints in the field.
Basically, if you don't have your license on you during a traffic stop (which illegal immigrants, by default, will not), your biometric data will then be zapped into a massive database of everything anyone has ever done.
"I can use this device here to instantly search millions of people in Los Angeles County and through the FBI and other databases for law-enforcement use," says the deputy in the promo video.
A spokesman at the Sheriff's Headquarters Bureau tells us that results will include "parole or probation status" and "any other 'want' in the system."
He's not sure if that includes immigration status -- we've contacted the sheriff's Logistics section for more -- but even if it doesn't, many illegal immigrants have their status ingrained into their criminal records anyway, in the form of vicious-cycle "crimes" like trying to re-enter the country, work without a visa, etc.
"If you have been involved with the justice system at some point -- if you were selling ice cream, or 20 years ago you robbed a pair of socks -- you'll be in there," says Jorge-Mario Cabrera from the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA).
Both immigration-rights and privacy-rights advocates have been making a huge stink over the federally mandated Secure Communities program, which allows anyone passing through the justice system to be screened by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. (Example: You're an undocumented 18-year-old hanging out, aka "loitering," at a public park with your friends, and you don't have an ID to show officers. So you're hauled off to the station and slapped with deportation proceedings. Really.)
But the Secure Communities program seems a shy little sibling to these mobile, Big Brother-esque background checkers.
Which would explain the department's elation over its new toys -- L.A. Sheriff Lee Baca has defended Secure Communities to the bitter end, even as leaders across the country have denounced the program as a racist, ineffective violation of human rights.
"We had heard from a couple of immigration attorneys that this is something they were concerned about," says Cabrera of the sheriff's new mobile data computer system (MDCS). He points out that once law-enforcement officials are aware of someone's immigration status, they can't unsee it, and are much less likely to let a low-level offender go.
Most disturbingly, FBI documents recently revealed that Secure Communities was launched as a first step to what the feds eventually hope to be an all-encompassing database of everyone's biometric info -- not just that of illegal aliens.
In other words, immigrants are just the defenseless Guinea pigs in America's greater plan for all-out police state. Fun!
We've contacted attorneys at the Southern California ACLU for their thoughts on these spooky new mind-readers. But given their disdain for Secure Communities -- and their rocky relations with both the L.A. Sheriff's Department and Raytheon, the military-tech company that designed the sheriff's system -- we're anticipating a bit of backlash.
More discouraging speculation on Raytheon, via the Los Angeles Times:
The deal with the Sheriff's Department is one of many that Raytheon has in the works for the public safety sector -- seen by many analysts as a steady stream of revenue for military contractors at a time when Pentagon spending is expected to decline.
Hey, if we can't spent our billions killing terrorists in the Middle East, might as well launch an equally expensive war on the huddled masses, right here at home!
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss LA Weekly's biggest stories.