Immigration status of all O.C. jail inmates will be checked


All inmates booked into Orange County jails will have their immigration status checked through a fingerprint identification program that started Tuesday.

Orange County joins 11 other California counties -- including Los Angeles, San Diego and Ventura -- that have started checking the status of inmates against a federal database as part of a national program to identify and deport undocumented immigrants who land in jail. The program, started in late 2008, is in place in dozens of municipalities nationwide.

Under the Secure Communities Initiative, jail officials will check inmates’ fingerprints against FBI criminal records and immigration records maintained by the Department of Homeland Security, authorities said. The database houses fingerprints of people who have had contact with the department, such as those who have applied for some type of immigration benefit. Previously, specially trained deputies screened inmates upon arrival in Orange County jails. Those who were foreign-born were checked further for immigration status.

Since the Secure Communities Initiative began, 18,000 immigrants charged with crimes such as murder, kidnapping and rape -- known as Level 1 offenses -- have been identified nationwide. Of those, 4,000 have been deported. An additional 25,000 immigrants charged with lesser crimes such as burglary, domestic violence and some property crimes have been deported.

The program was introduced as Sheriff Sandra Hutchens negotiates with the Department of Homeland Security to house immigration detainees in county jails to help offset a massive budget shortfall.