A controversial federal program that allows the fingerprints of everyone booked into local jails to be checked against a national immigration database has been activated in every county in Washington state.

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Silently and without fanfare, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has activated in every county in Washington a controversial program that will allow the fingerprints of everyone booked into local jails to be checked against a national immigration database.

Secure Communities, as the federal program is known, now exists in all 39 Washington counties as well as in jurisdictions in 45 other states.

The idea behind it, according to ICE, is to identify, detain and eventually deport those immigrants who are subject to removal from the country — with a particular focus on those who have committed serious crimes.

Established in 2008, Secure Communities has been divisive almost from the start, with immigrant advocates saying it snags immigrants who’ve committed minor offenses. States from California to New York have fought its implementation.

The program expands on one ICE already operates nationwide that allows its officers to check the names of those who’ve been booked into local jails and prisons against ICE’s own national database.

Secure Communities uses fingerprints instead of names. The prints, once collected, are funneled through a state database to the FBI, where ICE can access them, checking them against its own databases for matches.

That kind of analysis is more immediate and eliminates the need to have an ICE officer check booking lists, a process that may not occur frequently in some rural areas, if at all, ICE officials have said.

They credit the program with helping to remove 129,000 convicted criminal immigrants from the U.S. since 2008.

Those who support strict enforcement of immigration laws back the program, and on Tuesday Craig Keller, with a group called Respect Washington, declared “sanctuary for criminal aliens is now evaporating.”

But some law-enforcement agencies have said the program sends them down a path of immigration enforcement. And Jorge Baron, executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, said “our communities are likely to be less secure as a result.”

During the last two years, ICE has been trying to persuade states to opt into the program. Most, including this one, balked or stalled.

In those states, ICE was left to sign agreements with local jurisdictions. In Washington, six of the 39 counties had opted into the program by last July.

ICE has said it ultimately would be able to implement the program nationwide without state approval — and would do so by 2013. In recent months, it began activating it in holdout states.

On Tuesday, Washington became the 34th state with full, statewide activation.

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @turnbullL.