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Federal authorities say local police agencies will continue to enforce immigration laws

October 16, 2009 |  1:04 pm

Despite continuing criticism about the program, authorities announced Friday that 67 local and state law enforcement agencies across the country would continue enforcing immigration law under special agreements with the federal government but would be subject to more oversight.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement also limited the authority of the most controversial participant, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is under investigation by the Department of Justice for possible civil rights violations. Arpaio can still identify illegal immigrants in the jails but can no longer conduct immigration sweeps in his community under the federal program known as 287 (g).

ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton said Arpaio’s sweeps were “not consistent” with the priorities of the agency.

In California, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department has reached an agreement with the federal government to continue screening for illegal immigrants at the jails but is awaiting approval by county supervisors. Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside county sheriffs’ departments are still negotiating their agreements.

Morton announced in July that the federal program, which has drawn criticism from politicians and advocates concerned about racial profiling and civil rights violations, would continue but that every agency that wanted to participate would have to sign a new agreement by this week. Under the revised guidelines, the police agencies would have to focus on serious criminals and would be bound by civil rights and constitutional laws.

“The new 287 (g) very clearly lays out the priorities for the program and the intention for ICE and the partnering agencies to focus on serious criminal offenders,” Morton said.

 Since 287 (g) began, more than 1,075 local officers have been trained to enforce immigration law. More than 130,000 illegal immigrants have been identified under the program, according to officials. In 2009, roughly 24,000 illegal immigrants identified have been deported.

Of the 67 agreements announced Friday, 55 have been confirmed and 12 are still awaiting final approval by local agencies, federal authorities said. Ten new agencies are participating, while six elected to drop out.

--Anna Gorman

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