The U.S. Criminal History Information Sharing Program and El Salvador’s Decree 717

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The U.S. Criminal History Information Sharing Program and El Salvador’s Decree 717

By Robert Kirkland and Duncan Breda

Introduction:

The purpose of this article is to provide information on the Criminal History

Information Sharing (CHIS) program managed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as it relates in particular on questions of Salvadoran government abuses of deportees they suspect are gang members.

The CHIS provides a full criminal dossier of the deportee which can be used by the Salvadoran government to confirm previous U.S. gang activity to help monitor, control and detain deportees with gang records in the name of public safety. El Salvador’s Decree (Decreto) 717 has provided greatly increased powers to law enforcement to use as well as abuse the intent of this decree.

CHIS Background:

To provide participating nations with criminal history information in advance of an undocumented migrant’s removal from the United States, ICE uses the CHIS

program. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has CHIS agreements with counterparts in the governments of Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. ICE shares the information provided through the CHIS program from the Enforcement Integrated Database (EID), which is a DHS shared common database repository for several DHS law enforcement and homeland security applications. EID captures and maintains information related to the investigation, arrest, booking, detention, and removal of persons encountered during immigration and criminal law enforcement investigations and operations conducted by ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

DHS also expanded the CHIS program’s criminal history sharing to include biometric information (photographs and fingerprints). Photographs shared by CHIS are obtained from EID. DHS Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) stores fingerprints on behalf of ICE and other DHS component agencies. CHIS shares fingerprints from IDENT with foreign partners.

It is important to note that CHIS information sharing also involves non-criminal removable aliens (with the exception of Mexico).

The process begins when the CHIS application identifies an individual with a new final order for removal. The CHIS application gathers the relevant information regarding this individual and sends a message to a secure encrypted database which is shared with the U.S. foreign partner. When foreign partners such as El Salvador want to retrieve the information from the encrypted database, they can do so via the CHIS web service (1).

Decree 717 and the CHIS

Decree 717, approved in June 2017, gives the Salvadoran government greatly enhanced authority to monitor, control and detain deportees from the U.S. known to be members of gangs. Decree 717 was put into place in reaction to increased conflict between Salvadoran military, police, and the gangs. Salvadoran President Sánchez Cerén declared war on the gangs in April 2016 resulting in open warfare between the groups. There are over 10,000 soldiers on the streets of El Salvador now, with the Sánchez Cerén government unleashing a 1,000-strong special reaction force (Feres ) in mid-2016, including 600 soldiers. This has caused the gangs to increase their violence in response. El Salvador remains the most violent country outside of a recognized war zone (2).

Decree 717 requires that confirmed gang members register with the government their address and report bi-weekly on their activities. Failure to do so results in arrest. The law was clearly put into place to curb gang violence but has also provided a legal framework for excessive use of force and human rights abuses, including arbitrary detention; physical abuse on the part of immigration, police and military personnel; disappearance and torture; and extrajudicial execution committed by state security personnel and groups that operate under the blind eye of the state (3).

CHIS serves as a powerful tool that the Salvadoran government can use to confirm gang involvement for returning deportees. Through CHIS, Salvadoran authorities can print reports, notices, and other documents containing EID data, which are used for criminal and administrative law enforcement purposes and typically are retained in criminal investigative files, detention files, and Alien Files (A-Files). In addition, the CHIS database also includes biometric information (photographs and fingerprints). DHS Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) stores fingerprints on behalf of ICE and other DHS component agencies which can be readily accessed by Salvadoran authorities.

Decree 717 and the CHIS in Immigration Hearings

With knowledge of how criminal information is shared between the U.S. and Salvadoran governments, immigration attorneys can use this information to assert that their clients would not be able to function normally in society because they would be confirmed as criminal gang members through biometric and criminal dossier sharing between the two countries. Even those Salvadorans who want to leave gang life behind and turn a new page would be subject to this abuse and be limited in their opportunities. In addition, because Salvadoran security personnel distain persons they consider gang members, it is unlikely they would provide protection if such persons are threatened by gangs or other criminal elements.

Of longer term concern regarding CHIS and the Salvadoran government is that CHIS information sharing (to include biometric information) now includes non-criminal removable aliens. It is not unreasonable to extrapolate that such CHIS information for deportees could be used by the Salvadoran government to track or otherwise monitor any returning deportee of interest who now resides in their country. In immigration hearings, the U.S. government regularly asserts that non-criminal respondents who are threatened by gangs can relocate to other areas of El Salvador, obtain jobs and function normally without detection. However, given that gangs often have government officials under their pay, they can easily obtain information on deportees of interest whose information is contained in the CHIS or transferred to a Salvadoran database.

Conclusion:

Matthew Albence, Executive Associate Director, Enforcement and Removal Operations for ICE, in a statement to the U.S. House Subcommittee on Homeland Security on April 12, 2018 noted that CHIS was a “vital international public safety tool providing participating nations with criminal history information in advance of an alien’s removal.” While certainly CHIS information has helped countries such as El Salvador monitor and control its worst criminal gang offenders, used in conjunction with Decree 717, it has also proven to be a powerful tool for Salvadoran authorities to commit human rights abuses in the name of preserving public security (4).

The sharing through CHIS of non-criminal deportee information raises further concerns of future abuse of this data by a Salvadoran government which has proven to have difficulty adhering to the rule of law. Furthermore, the government has been compromised by officials under the pay of gang members who could certainly use this data to track and threaten non-criminal deportees of interest. Thus, even non-criminal Salvadoran deportees who fear gangs or their like should rightly have concerns with possible abuse of CHIS information in their country of removal.

About the Authors:

Robert Kirkland, PhD, is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and operational Latin American Foreign Area Officer. He has a B.S. from the United States Military Academy, West Point and a M.A. and Ph.D. in Latin American history from the University of Pittsburgh. He also has a graduate certificate in Latin American Studies from the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. He has provided expert testimony on drug cartel and gang violence in Mexico and Central America since his retirement from the Army in 2014. He can be reached at info@robertkirklandconsulting.com

Duncan Breda, BA, has a degree in criminology from Saint Edwards University in Austin, Texas.

Endnotes:

1. For more information on the Criminal History Information Sharing (CHIS) Program, see “DHS/ICE/PIA-015 Enforcement Integrated Database (EID) Criminal History Information Sharing (CHIS) Program,” Department of Homeland Security, August 1, 2016; Accessed at: https://www.dhs.gov/publication/dhsi...mation-sharing

2. See for example: “Rise of the Salvatrucha: World’s most feared and vicious gang is expanding with ambitions to commit the most murders” News.au.com. January 7, 2017; Accessed at:. http://www.news.com.au/national/crim...ea22c8ef6f018b

3. “El Salvador to Create a Deportee Criminal Registry,” Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador,” September 25, 2017; Accessed at: http://cispes.org/article/el-salvado...minal-registry

4. “Statement of Matthew Albence, Executive Associate Director, Enforcement and Removal Operations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Homeland Security, April 12, 2018; Accessed at: https://www.ice.gov/sites/default/fi...enceBenner.pdf


About The Author

About The Author

Robert Kirkland, PhD is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and operational Latin American Foreign Area Officer. He has a B.S. from the United States Military Academy, West Point and a M.A. and Ph.D. in Latin American history from the University of Pittsburgh. He also has a graduate certificate in Latin American Studies from the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. He has provided expert testimony on drug cartel and gang violence in Mexico and Central America since his retirement from the Army in 2014. He can be reached at info@robertkirklandconsulting.com

Duncan Breda, BS has a degree in criminology from Saint Edwards University in Austin, Texas.


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