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Thursday, March 10, 2005

Carona eyes U.S. law for O.C. problem
The sheriff's proposal for using immigration statutes to go after career criminals is due out in June.

The Orange County Register

WASHINGTON – Sheriff Mike Carona is close to finishing a plan that would allow deputies to use federal immigration laws to help get career criminals off the streets of Orange County communities and keep them off.

For more than a year and a half, Carona and his staff have been researching how best to use immigration laws to combat crime and terrorism without endangering the relationship law enforcement has developed with immigrant communities.

"We're not going to be out there grabbing everybody," Carona said in an interview this week. "We can be very specific in the types of people we're going after, such as known criminals who have been deported and are back in this country again." The impetus for this move dates back to the 1996 immigration reform act. Rep. Christopher Cox, chairman of the homeland security committee, wrote a provision of that law that says local police agencies could sign an agreement with the federal government to enforce immigration law.

"The goal is to be able to use cross-deputation to root the hard-core criminals out of the community," said Cox, R-Newport Beach, who met with Carona and his staff recently to get anupdate. "It's a tool of law enforcement designed to improve safety. It's not designed to be primarily immigration enforcement."

Carona and other local law-enforcement officials believe that if they are viewed in the community as immigration police, residents will not trust them and will be reluctant to report crimes or help in solving them.

Carona said he hopes to have the details of a proposal on paper by June and then share it with the community.

Carona outlined three possible components:

In the jail: Sheriff's deputies would check on the immigration status of all prisoners and make sure criminals who should be deported are turned over to federal authorities.

Federal immigration enforcement officials are currently at the county jails, but they aren't there all day every day. Having local deputies do the job would help make sure no one falls through the cracks, Carona said.

In selected investigative units: Deputies in teams specializing in gangs, narcotic or sexual predators would be subject to this cross-deputation.

"If we have somebody who is an individual who has committed a crime, been deported and is now back in the country, like a sexual predator, we're not going to wait around for him to commit another act on a child," Carona said. Instead, under his new plan, the deputy could arrest the illegal immigrant for a federal felony.

Patrols: This would allow deputies on patrol who think they have come across a career criminal who may also be in the federal immigration database to check that database and arrest the person on the federal immigration crime.

Community immigration advocates expressed a combination of support for what the sheriff wants to do and skepticism about whether the program would stay as limited as he is suggesting.

"What we are really apprehensive about is giving this power to the deputies and whether it will continue to grow," said Amin David of Los Amigos, a member of the sheriff's community advisory panel. David said the community would have to be assured that the "green sheriff's uniform doesn't also become an ICE (federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement) uniform as well. That would just be havoc in our community.''

And Irvine immigration lawyer Angelo Paparelli is worried about whether the training would be adequate.

"The law is complicated enough for immigration officers to master," said Paparelli.

Carona estimated that between 200 and 500 officers would get the federal training. The sheriff said cost is definitely an issue - both the cost of the training and the cost of overtime for officers needed to fill in for those away at the five-week training.

"I made a commitment to obtain the funding they need," Cox said.

Miriam Padilla, a community organizer for the Orange County Congregation Community Organization, said Carona has built up enough good will in the community that he will be given a fair chance to explain the proposal.

"It's a very fine line that we're treading," said Padilla. "We do advocate for the immigrant community. But at the same time we wouldn't want to be so extreme that we would undermine the safety of the community.''

Padilla said Carona has promised to form an advisory group to monitor any new system to make sure officers don't overstep the objectives.

Elaine Proko of Anaheim, a foe of illegal immigration, calls the proposal "a wonderful idea" and hopes there will be some way to ensure those taken into custody are deported to their home countries.