The U.S. Homeland Security Department has started an ambitious effort costing $2 billion to $3 billion a year to identify and deport the estimated 300,000 to 450,000 illegal immigrants locked up each year in jails and prisons, reports the Houston Chronicle. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement operation was denounced by immigrant rights groups and received cautiously by those favoring tighter enforcement.
ICE has a presence in only 10 percent of the nation’s 3,100 local lockups. Last year, it filed deportation charges against 164,000 illegal immigrants in jail, and removed 95,000. The “Secure Communities” program will upgrade computer technology in jails and allow local jailers to access ICE’s fingerprint database to quickly identify prisoners with immigration violations as they are booked. The $200 million already allocated for the program this year would also add an unspecified number of ICE detention and removal officers.