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MPI Report Shows Database Errors Plague Federal Effort to Induce Immigration Enforcement by Local Police; Report Offers First Look at Police Activity Since September 11

Press Release
Thursday, December 8, 2005

MPI Report Shows Database Errors Plague Federal Effort to Induce Immigration Enforcement by Local Police; Report Offers First Look at Police Activity Since September 11

Thousands of times each year, police officers checking the name of an individual stopped or detained against records in the nation's main criminal database have received an initial "hit" for an immigration violation that, upon further investigation, the Department of Homeland Security could not confirm. These "false positives" have likely caused wrongful detentions and diverted scarce police resources from local public safety priorities, finds a report to be released on Thursday by the Migration Policy Institute.

The study, based on government data, finds that from 2002 to 2004, when police queried names in the FBI's National Crime Information Center database, the officer received erroneous immigration hits in almost 9,000 cases. The rate of false positives was 42 percent overall, and some individual law enforcement agencies had error rates as high as 90 percent.

"The incredibly high number of false positives in the database means that police resources, which are always stretched thin, are being wasted on detaining immigrants and non-immigrants alike who haven't done anything wrong," said MPI President Demetrios Papademetriou.

The report, Blurring the Lines: A Profile of State and Local Police Enforcement of Immigration Law Using the National Crime Information Center Database, 2002-2004, uses data released by DHS in partial settlement of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The report provides the first glimpse of how immigration data in the NCIC is being used, by which local law enforcement agencies, and against which immigrants.

Key report findings include:

  • Forty-two percent of all NCIC immigration hits in response to a police query were "false positives," where DHS was unable to confirm that the individual was an actual immigration violator.
  • Maine had the highest rate of false positives—90 percent of calls from that state could not be confirmed by DHS. California had the lowest rate, with 18 percent of total calls unconfirmed.
  • Eighty-five percent of all immigration violators identified in a statistically significant sample of NCIC hits were from Latin America. Seventy-one percent were from Mexico.
  • The number of "absconders" identified annually through the NCIC increased by nearly 25-fold from 2002 to 2004.
  • Police have identified no National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) violators through the use of the NCIC.
  • On a state-wide basis, law enforcement agencies in California, Texas, Florida, Arizona, and New York utilized the NCIC immigration records the most. Vermont and Montana had the lowest gross number of NCIC immigration hits.
  • State-wide, Nebraska and South Carolina law enforcement utilized the NCIC immigration records the most in relation to the state's total unauthorized population.
  • Of individual police departments, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and Los Angeles Police Department, as well as other southern California departments, contacted DHS the most in response to NCIC immigration hits. The Phoenix Police Department, the Texas State Police, and the New York Police Department also ranked highly.

"The data suggest that asking police untrained in immigration law to detain people based on bad records is of dubious law enforcement value," said report co-author Michael Wishnie. "This likely damages police credibility, increases their legal liability, and undermines public safety by discouraging immigrant victims and witnesses from cooperating with police."

The full report is available online.