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L.A. County plans to check immigration status of all inmates [Updated]

May 13, 2009 |  2:40 pm

[Updated, 3:15 p.m. All local police agencies in Los Angeles County plan to begin screening the immigration status of all inmates booked into jails.]

Los Angeles County plans to begin checking the immigration status of all inmates booked into its jails this month in an effort to identify and deport more illegal immigrants with criminal records.

Sheriff’s employees will run the inmates’ fingerprints through federal databases to see if they have had any contact with the immigration system and will place holds on those believed to be in the country illegally. Once they have completed serving their sentences, the inmates will be transferred to immigration custody for possible deportation.

The Los Angeles County Jail began working with federal immigration agents in 2006 to screen inmates, but officials said the new federal program is much more accurate than the current system because all inmates — not just the ones who say they are foreign-born — will be checked.

“There is another layer of screening going on,” said Sheriff’s Lt. Kevin Kuykendall. “It’s another tool to increase our effectiveness and make sure we get to everyone we need to get to.”

Illegal immigrant Pedro Espinoza is accused of killing high school football star Jamiel Shaw II last year, one day after Espinoza was released from an L.A. County jail. Espinoza wasn’t red-flagged for an interview because he said during booking that he was born in the U.S.

Earlier this week, Shaw’s family sued the Sheriff’s Department for negligence and wrongful death for releasing Espinoza.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement already launched the program, dubbed Secure Communities, in 48 counties in seven states. Los Angeles, San Diego and Ventura will be the first counties in California to participate.

The federal agency plans to expand the program to all county jails and state and federal prisons by the end of 2012. President Obama asked Congress last week for a 30% increase in federal funds for Secure Communities, bringing the annual budget to nearly $200 million.

-- Anna Gorman

Photo: Los Angeles Times