The Obama administration is expanding a program initiated by President George W. Bush aimed at checking the immigration status of virtually every person booked into local jails. In four years, the measure could result in a tenfold increase in illegal immigrants who have been convicted of crimes and identified for deportation, current and former U.S. officials said.
By matching inmates’ fingerprints to federal immigration databases, authorities hope to pinpoint deportable illegal immigrants before they are released from custody. Inmates in federal and state prisons already are screened. But authorities generally lack the time and staff to do the same at local jails, which house up to twice as many illegal immigrants at any time and where inmates come and go more quickly.
The effort is likely to significantly reshape immigration enforcement, current and former executive branch officials said. It comes as the Obama administration and Democratic leaders in Congress vow to crack down on illegal immigrants who commit crimes, rather than those who otherwise abide by the law.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has made it “very clear” that her top priority is deporting illegal immigrants who have committed crimes, said David J. Venturella, program director at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.