The number of Los Angeles County jail inmates identified as suspected illegal immigrants nearly doubled in the year since the sheriff started investigating their status, says the Los Angeles Times. The number red-flagged to face possible deportation after their sentences went from 3,050 in 2005 to 5,829 last year. “The benefit is these people who are committing crimes aren’t being released onto our streets to commit more crimes. They are being removed from the United States,” said Jim Hayes of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
The sharp increase in potential deportees is believed to be the result of more screening, rather than an increase in the number of illegal immigrants in the jails. Eight screeners have been assigned to the jail since late 2005, resulting in the screening of almost 10,000 convicts. The number of federal agents assigned to the jail was doubled in October. Some backers of the program say it shows that illegal immigrants have been playing a significant role in the county’s crime problems. “It’s a good start, but they need to go further,” said Paul Orfanedes of Judicial Watch, a group that has sued law enforcement agencies alleging that they fail to enforce immigration laws. The jail screening program has been controversial because of concerns that immigrants might become hesitant to report crimes to local police if they knew sheriff’s employees were helping in deportations.