Benton and Franklin counties are among 12 in Washington planning to adopt a federal program that uses fingerprints of arrested people to detect illegal immigrants.
Franklin County is to start using the Secure Communities program Tuesday, while Benton County has asked to join but doesn't have a start date yet.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement program has been opposed by immigration-rights groups such as the Seattle-based OneAmerica, which claim the program doesn't work like federal officials say it does.
Yakima County was the first in the state to implement the program, The Seattle Times reported.
Franklin County Sheriff Richard Lathim and Benton County Sheriff Steve Keane said the program won't change jail procedures or add to workloads.
And there is no cost, Keane said.
All joining means is that fingerprints will be checked against the Department of Homeland Security's database and the FBI's, Lathim said.
Everyone who is arrested is fingerprinted, and those fingerprints are then checked against the FBI database, which is the master database for law enforcement agencies nationwide, Lathim said.
The Department of Homeland Security database has additional fingerprint records, including those of people who have been deported, Keane said.
Fingerprints can help identify people who give a fake name or don't have identification, Lathim said. In most cases, the results will be back within an hour.
With Secure Communities, ICE will notify the county if someone needs to be put on an immigration hold, Lathim said.
Both counties already have an ICE officer who checks jail booking logs, Lathim said. That began in the late 1980s when Franklin County was trying to address its high crime rate, drug problems and violence, he said.
The difference is that those who might not have been in jail when the ICE officer comes now will be checked against the immigration database, he said, which lowers the chance of a dangerous criminal slipping through the cracks.
More than 77,000 immigrants convicted of crimes have been removed through Secure Communities through April 30, according to ICE. Of those, 28,000 had been convicted of an aggravated felony such as murder, rape or sexual abuse of children.
OneAmerica lobbied both sheriffs not to adopt the program.
But Lathim said, "I think it's in the best interest of public safety to do this."
Jazmin Santacruz, an organizer for the Tri-Cities OneAmerica committee, said the lack of public input in adopting the program concerns her.
Although the program is supposed to catch serious criminals who are in the country illegally, Santacruz said public records received by OneAmerica showed the majority of those who were deported had either minor criminal convictions or none at all.
OneAmerica reports that ICE's own data shows that 74 percent of the immigrants deported through the program had no conviction or a low-level offense.
Santacruz said the program has caused worry among the immigrant community. She is concerned the program could erode trust of law enforcement and lead to some immigrants not reporting crimes.
The purpose is to target dangerous criminals who are in the United States illegally, Keane said. It isn't meant to target people who are convicted of a minor crime such as a traffic infraction.
Keane said his job is to get dangerous criminals off the streets, not deal with deportations. That, he said, is up to ICE.