A surprise Senate amendment puts the state a step closer to joining a federal effort to find and deport immigrants who have committed crimes.
Minnesota may become the latest state to join a controversial data-sharing program designed to find and remove illegal immigrants who have committed crimes.
Gov. Mark Dayton has directed the state's public safety commissioner to study the federal "Secure Communities" initiative, Katharine Tinucci, the governor's press secretary, said in an e-mail on Wednesday.
The statement follows a surprise move earlier this week, when the Minnesota Senate unanimously passed a data practices bill with a provision authorizing the state to participate in the Department of Homeland Security's Secure Communities program.
The program calls for local and county jails to share the fingerprints of people booked with the Department of Homeland Security to check their immigration status.
The amendment, introduced Monday by Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, caught many at the Capitol by surprise.
"My observation was that this was a bombshell," said Michele Garnett McKenzie, of the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights. "It never got a hearing."
While the amended bill still faces possible challenges in the House and the governor's office, its passage in the Senate brings Minnesota closer to becoming the 43rd state to join Secure Communities.
Ortman said she proposed the amendment now "because the administration right now is in discussions with the Department of Homeland Security and has been talking with local law enforcement."
"As policymakers, we wanted to weigh in and support the Secure Communities initiative," she said.
In a statement issued Wednesday, a Minnesota Department of Public Safety spokesman said the department is evaluating the effectiveness of the program, along with the responsibilities and costs that would fall to state and local governments if it were implemented.
"We feel it would be unwise to circumvent this deliberative process by prematurely adopting the proposed legislation," Doug Neville, the spokesman, said.
The Secure Communities initiative began in 2008. It aims to identify and deport illegal immigrants who have committed serious crimes by sharing the fingerprints of anyone booked in a local jail with the Department of Homeland Security.
Supporters, including Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, say it is a powerful crime deterrent.
But Minnesota's possible entry into the initiative comes at a time when some states are pulling out. Illinois is the most recent state to retreat from the program, with its governor notifying ICE officials earlier this month that it was withdrawing amid concerns that people who had never been convicted of a crime were being deported. Lawmakers in California, New York, Massachusetts and Maryland have raised similar objections.
Ortman noted that Secure Communities is already in 1,298 jurisdictions in 42 states with plans to expand to the rest of the country by 2013.
Allie Shah • 612-673-4488