Eighteen Texas sheriffs have signed up to participate in a federal immigration enforcement program that checks the immigration status of inmates in the county jail.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials announced the partnership agreements for the federal 287 (g) program Monday at the Sheriffs Association of Texas' annual meeting in Grapevine.
Most of the agreements began over the last six weeks.
Tarrant County and Carrollton remain the only two North Texas agencies involved in the program.
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Under the agreement, sheriff's office personnel are trained so that people jailed locally and found to be in the country illegally can be held until federal agents decide if deportation is appropriate.
Critics say local law enforcement shouldn't do the federal government's job and that the program contributes to mistrust between immigrants and police officers.
ICE's acting director Tom Holman said the criticism is misplaced.
"We're doing our job," he said. "They don't understand. This is about public safety. This is about officer safety. For every criminal alien that my officers can't get out of a county jail, we have to knock on a door. And everyone in law enforcement knows what it's like to knock on a door of someone who's a criminal alien that's a threat to the community."
Earlier this year Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn asked the federal government to train jail detention officers in the program and about a dozen are expected to be trained in South Carolina soon.
The 18 departments bring the number of ICE partnerships to 60 in the largest jump in participation in five years. ICE officials said they plan to continue recruiting partners for the program, which is one of ICE's top partnership initiatives.
The Associated Press and NBC 5's Frank Heinz contributed to this report.