Sheriff’s deputies in California’s Orange County could be among the nation’s first local law enforcement officers trained to enforce federal immigration laws under a proposal that is stirring controversy, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The proposal is at odds with the policy of most California police departments, who see immigration law enforcement as a wedge between their officers and the Latino community. Some sheriff’s officials say enforcing immigration law is a tool needed to fight terrorism.
Representative Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach), chairman of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, said the plan could be a model for law enforcement. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) is among those warning that empowering deputies to enforce immigration law will strain relations in immigrant communities.
Earlier this year, hundreds of Latinos in San Juan Capistrano, Ca., protested a series of arrests by Border Patrol agents. Some illegal immigrants were arrested; agents also picked up a woman who had been waiting seven years for her permanent residency application to be processed. She was locked up for six days and said agents tried to pressure her to sign documents for voluntary deportation. “How many terrorists, or for that matter, how many Latino terrorists are living among us in south Orange County?” said Patricia Mariscal, a San Juan Capistrano activist.
Orange County deputies would join 21 Alabama state troopers and 35 Florida police officers as the only local law enforcement officers in the nation trained to enforce federal immigration laws. The training is authorized by a little-used statute sponsored by Cox for the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act signed by President Clinton in 1996.
“The law has been underutilized,” Cox said. “If we were to develop a plan in Orange County to meet homeland security needs and the Hispanic community’s needs, it could be a model for the country.”