- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 17, 2009

Department of Homeland Security officials have signed new agreements authorizing nearly 70 state and local law enforcement agencies, including a contentious Arizona sheriff, to help arrest and deport illegal immigrants charged with violent or criminal acts.

Under the new agreements, Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., who has come under fire for his immigration sweeps, will continue to work with federal authorities when illegal immigrants are booked into his jail. But Sheriff Arpaio’s office will not be given the power to arrest such people, as it previously had, federal officials said.

As the new agreements were announced, Sheriff Arpaio launched a crime and immigration sweep Friday in northwestern metro Phoenix, according to the Associated Press.

The sheriff told the AP that he can still arrest immigrants under a state smuggling law and a federal law that gives all local police agencies more limited power to detain suspected illegal immigrants.

“It doesn’t bother me, because we are going to do the same thing,” Sheriff Arpaio said. “I am the elected sheriff. I don’t take orders from the federal government.”

As the deadline passed Friday for agencies to participate in the so-called 287(g) program, 55 agreements had been signed, and more than a dozen others were awaiting approval or were still in negotiations, including participation by 11 new departments.

At least six departments have withdrawn from the program, citing reasons including budgetary constraints, said John Morton, assistant secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Critics complained that, under the old agreement, immigrants were arrested on misdemeanor charges that were never prosecuted. Instead, they were deported. The program was suspended by the Obama administration.

The new agreement allows for “greater accountability and transparency,” including regular audits and closer federal inspection, said Mr. Morton.

No agencies in the District or Maryland are participating. But in Virginia, the Prince William County Sheriff’s Office and Police Department, and Prince William-Manassas Adult Detention Center have renewed their agreements. So have the Manassas Police Department, Manassas Park Police Department, Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office and Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office.

The program, which began in 1996, expedites the deportation of criminal aliens by identifying those already in jail to be deported after time served, and by training and enlisting local police officers to arrest those who pose a threat to local communities.

The new agreements are intended to curb reported abuses in the program: Illegal immigrants purportedly were arrested for minor offenses, and there were allegations of profiling.

Sheriff Arpaio’s office will continue to conduct raids as part of a “crime suppression operation,” said Deputy Doug Matteson.

“The sheriff has vowed to continue his enforcement of all aspects of immigration laws and says that the federal government’s move to strip deputies of their ICE status will not change anything,” Deputy Matteson said.

Sheriff Arpaio still has the authority to arrest illegal immigrants under state laws, Mr. Morton said. No details were released about Friday’s‘ crackdown.

Asked whether ICE will take custody of any illegal immigrants possibly arrested Friday by the sheriff’s office, Mr. Morton said, “We are going to respond to Maricopa County the way we would respond to any law enforcement agency in Arizona.”

He added, however, that Sheriff Arpaio’s raids were “not consistent” with the agency’s priorities, which is to target violent criminals who are in the country illegally.

“If they give us a call, we will come and respond on the merits of it, case by case,” Mr. Morton said.

Frank Sharry, executive director of the immigration reform group Americas Voice, said the sheriff has used outrageous tactics to terrorize Hispanic neighborhoods, and that has resulted in 3,500 lawsuits and a Justice Department civil rights investigation.

“Arpaio should be stopped, not re-signed,” Mr. Sharry said.

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigrant advocacy group, criticized the program as “misguided and ineffective.”

“Succumbing to the siren call of an enforcement-only approach will not solve the immigration problem once and for all,” Mr. Noorani said.

However, the Center for Immigration Studies is set to release a report on the 287(g) program, which it says has reduced immigration-related public safety problems and assists the federal government in removing illegal immigrants.

• Audrey Hudson can be reached at ahudson@washingtontimes.com.

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