WASHINGTON - U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says she recognizes there is confusion over a fingerprinting program targeting immigrant criminals.
Napolitano acknowledged the criticism leveled at her by lawmakers and immigration-rights advocates who say the confusion is over whether local communities can opt out of the federal program called Secure Communities, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
She said local governments may not "exclude themselves" from the program's fingerprint-checking database.
"This whole opt-in, opt-out thing was a misunderstanding from the get-go and we have tried to correct that," Napolitano said.
The Secure Communities program was started in 2008 and uses fingerprint data to authorities arrest serious immigrant criminals.
"The fingerprints of everyone arrested and booked are not only checked against FBI criminal history records, but they are also checked" against immigration records, Homeland Security's guidelines specify.
Although not mentioning specific names, the Chronicle reported immigrant-rights groups allege the program has caught immigrants guilty of minor offenses and those arrested but never charged with crimes.
U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., is calling for an investigation into "dissembling and deceiving" conduct by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials who she says were "essentially lying" to members of Congress about whether local communities could stay out of the program.