Friday, April 14, 2006

Path to Deportation Can Start With a Traffic Stop - New York Times

Path to Deportation Can Start With a Traffic Stop - New York Times:

"Until fairly recently, it was viewed as inappropriate, even unconstitutional, for the local or state authorities to be involved in the enforcement of federal law. In Los Angeles, the police still operate under an internal rule that says 'undocumented alien status is not a matter for police enforcement.' Similar policies apply in San Francisco and New York City.

But that may be changing, partly because the local authorities have decided to play a more active role and partly because of an unabashed call from the federal government seeking help from states and localities.

'The untold story of immigration law is that there are just not enough federal immigration officers to enforce the immigration laws we have,' said Kris W. Kobach, a law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City who as a counsel in the Justice Department worked on several cooperative agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies.

'The only way our programs can work is with help from local law enforcement, and we're expecting to see that happening more and more,' he said.

To make that happen, law enforcement officials have increasingly been looking to a federal statute, the 1996 Immigration and Nationality Act. It allows the local and state authorities to reach agreements with the federal immigration and customs agency to train their officers — in a four-week crash course — to be virtual immigration agents, able to conduct citizenship investigations and begin deportation proceedings against illegal immigrants.

The law went nearly untried in its first five years on the books. Then Florida had 60 state agents and highway officers trained in 2002, and Alabama did the same for about 40 state troopers in 2003. In the next two years, the Arizona corrections department and the Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties in California each had a few dozen officers trained.

Indicating a new sense of urgency, though, 11 additional state and county jurisdictions have applied to enter the program in the past year alone, according to a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Michael W. Gilhooly. He would not specify which they were, but public officials in Missouri, Tennessee, Arizona and about a dozen additional counties in California, Texas and North Carolina have publicly expressed interest in the program.

Local officials involved in these initiatives say they are mainly targeting hardened criminals in the immigrant population — people like gang members and sexual predators who have been the recent target of sweeps by federal immigration agents."

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