More and more noncriminal immigrants — or those who have committed misdemeanors — are being swept into the wide net of Secure Communities, a federal program launched in 2008 with the stated goal of identifying and deporting illegal immigrants “convicted of serious crimes.”

Under the program, fingerprints of all inmates booked into local jails and cross-checked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s criminal database are forwarded by that agency to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to be screened for immigration status.

Officials said the new system focuses enforcement efforts on violent felons such as those convicted of murder, rape and kidnapping.

But Secure Communities is now mired in controversy, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times.

Recently released ICE data show that nearly half of those ensnared by the program have been noncriminals.

In addition, hundreds of ICE e-mails released in response to litigation by immigrant and civil rights groups show the agency knowingly misled local and state officials to believe that participation in the program was voluntary while internally acknowledging that this was not the case.

U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) has accused ICE officials of lying to local governments and to Congress and called for a probe into whether ICE Director John Morton and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who oversees the agency, were aware of the deception.

Although that data will still be forwarded to immigration authorities, California is now crafting policies that would deny ICE hold requests for inmates booked on minor infractions.

There is still much confusion over what legal authority states have to change their participation agreements with ICE, which now says they are unnecessary.

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