Minnesota began participation this week in the federal immigration enforcement program known as Secure Communities, an electronic data-gathering tool used by the Department of Homeland Security to check the backgrounds of those booked into county jails.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will now receive fingerprint information from all 87 counties when individuals are detained.
Minnesota is the 27th state to fully join the mandatory program, seen by many authorities as the most comprehensive way to identify the most dangerous illegal immigrants. By 2013, all states are expected to be fully online to supply ICE fingerprints of any person booked into a jail.
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek hailed the state's involvement and said he is confident that thousands more illegal and dangerous immigrants booked into the jail will be identified by federal authorities for deportation proceedings.
Immigration-rights organizations have criticized the program, saying it gives too much power to ICE to order holds on people booked into county jails and wrongly targets illegal immigrants who have no felony records.
ICE officials say they are concentrating deportation actions only against those considered dangerous based on past criminal records.
Previously, the fingerprints of a person booked into a Minnesota county jail were sent only to the FBI. From there, the FBI would decide whether to send the prints on to ICE.
Through October 2011, ICE says that more than 110,000 immigrants convicted of crimes -- including more than 39,000 convicted of aggravated felonies (murder, rape, sexual abuse of children) -- were deported through the program, which began in 2008.