Following the revelation that thousands of fingerprints from deported immigrants are not contained in a federal database, Congress has appropriated $5 million to begin scanning in the prints that had been left out.
The disclosure of the database flaws came after Fairfax County police began looking for a rape suspect in late 2010. Police ran the name “Salvador Portillo-Saravia” through a computer and learned that he had been deported to El Salvador in 2003. He returned to Sterling illegally, and just one month before the Dec. 26, 2010, attack on an 8-year-old girl in Centreville, he had been in the Loudoun County jail.
Portillo-Saravia was arrested Nov. 21, 2010, for public drunkenness. But when Loudoun jail deputies ran his name and fingerprints through the national IDENT database as part of the Secure Communities program, headed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, they received no notice that he had been deported.
“No match,” the computer flashed back. Portillo-Saravia, now 30, was released from the jail about 12 hours later.
ICE officials said Loudoun deputies should have requested a second, manual check of the records. Then-Sheriff Steve Simpson and many other sheriffs in the region said that they didn’t know about the need for manual checks and that they didn’t have the resources to do them. They said they thought that Secure Communities provided a neutral way of checking every arrestee who came to the jail, without profiling or further digging into backgrounds.
ICE officials then said that many people — the number isn’t known — who were deported before 2005 were fingerprinted the old-fashioned way, by rolling inked fingertips onto file cards. The prints were not digitized or placed into the IDENT database.
After a report detailing the database gap appeared in The Washington Post, ICE sent out reminders to jails participating in Secure Communities to consider manual checks. It noted that the database, even with 120 million records, was not complete.
Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), chairman of the House subcommittee overseeing the Justice Department, set out to find money to get those fingerprints into the IDENT system. In May, he placed a $10 million request into the budget approved by the House, but the amount was reduced to $5 million.
“This tragic incident identified a critical shortcoming in the Secure Communities program,” Wolf said in a news release Tuesday.
ICE officials on Tuesday declined to comment on the appropriation and how it would be spent or on how many ink-rolled fingerprint cards need to be digitized.
Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies, who has followed Secure Communities closely, said she has heard that as many as 500,000 fingerprint cards are not digitized. “I wonder if ICE could get more bang out of those bucks by investing the $5 million in a robust outreach program to train local law enforcement agencies on how to handle ‘no-matches,’ ” she said.
Portillo-Saravia was convicted in October of rape and sodomy. He faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced next month.