By Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Los Angeles County sheriff, who oversees the largest jail system in the United States, has said he will allow immigration agents back into his detention facilities to potentially deport unauthorized immigrants who might pose a danger to the public.
Sheriff Jim McDonnell outlined his approach in a letter sent on Tuesday to the county's Board of Supervisors, which in May voted to end a controversial agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that for a decade had let ICE agents operate out of at least one office in the jail system.
McDonnell's plan for working with ICE follows mounting debate about the federal agency's program to identify and deport unauthorized immigrants who have been arrested on suspicion of committing a crime.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in July criticized liberal-leaning San Francisco for local laws limiting assistance to U.S. immigration authorities, after a five-time deported Mexican immigrant was released from jail there and then arrested on charges of murdering a woman.
Immigrant rights groups say ICE's partnership with local law-enforcement agencies erodes trust in police and leads to unnecessary separations of families. Many U.S. cities, including New York and Los Angeles, have limited their police cooperation with the federal agency.
In the letter, McDonnell said he would work with ICE only to the extent allowed by a California law called the Trust Act, which limits cooperation by state police to cases involving immigrant inmates convicted of violent or serious felonies.
The sheriff's letter said his department will notify ICE agents up to seven days before an inmate's release, and give the agency access to its jails database.
Before transferring an inmate to ICE custody, the department will make sure he or she qualifies for such a transfer under the Trust Act, McDonnell added, and no inmate will be held beyond a release date based solely on an ICE request.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis said in a statement on Wednesday she wanted to make sure the policy did not open the door to full access by ICE agents to the jails.
"There is a big difference between allowing limited interviews and allowing the full, unfettered access that existed before," Solis said.
ICE said in a statement it looked forward to continuing its work with the sheriff.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Mohammad Zargham)