US IMMIGRATION and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has implemented the "Secure Communities" program in Multnomah, Marion, and Clackamas Counties, and hopes to roll it out nationwide by 2011. The system checks the immigration status of people booked in county jails by submitting their fingerprints to a national immigration database ["Criminal Aliens," News, June 24]. It replaces or supplements a hodgepodge of previous screening techniques.

Through communication with sheriff's departments across the state beginning in March 2009, volunteers with the immigrant-focused group Rural Organizing Project found vast discrepancies in how the "Criminal Alien Program"—in which jails release inmates directly to ICE custody, for likely deportation—was implemented.

"Despite the fact that ICE claims over 50 jails in Oregon participate in the program, only the Clackamas and Marion County sheriff's offices explicitly mentioned participation," the group writes.

The study found 10 counties that indicated they have some kind of policy governing their relationship with ICE. Columbia, Josephine, and Malheur Counties said they have a federal contract to hold ICE detainees in their jails.

Another group, Immigrant Family Advocates, looked at release records from the Deschutes County Adult Jail from January 1, 2007 to August 4, 2009. Of the 436 people believed to have been released to immigration authorities during that time, 62 percent faced "minor charges" (like DUII or minor theft), and four percent were not charged with a crime at all.

"Is that really worth the cost to our country, and to peaceful members of our communities picked up for minor crimes like a DUI?" asks Amanda Aguilar Shank with the Rural Organizing Project.

ICE spokeswoman Lorie Dankers refused to speculate on whether Secure Communities would cause the deportation of non-criminals. As for the inconsistent screening methods in place before Secure Communities: "That's why we like to use technology as a backstop," says Dankers.