, ... 74,00.html
Thursday, August 11, 2005 - 9:16:11 PM PST

ID plan for foreign inmates proposed
Sheriff's idea earns praise from officials

By Brenda Gazzar
Staff Writer

Nine civilian employees would assist federal officials in identifying illegal and other deportable inmates under a plan being proposed by San Bernardino County Sheriff Gary Penrod.
The plan, to be presented Tuesday to the Board of Supervisors, already has earned praise from at least two county officials.

Penrod's proposal, said Supervisor Paul Biane, would help get inmates who might otherwise be released into the community "farther away from San Bernardino County before they can commit another crime here."

It also would allow the county to more accurately count its illegal residents in custody, thereby receiving additional reimbursement from the federal government for housing them.

"We have to work together in partnership to more efficiently use our county's financial resources in getting the best bang for our buck, and in ... fighting crime in San Bernardino County," Biane said.

Local law enforcement does not generally have the authority to take a suspect into custody and hold him for immigration violations. Since 1996, however, state and local agencies have had the option of working with federal officials to identify and detain immigration offenders who might pose criminal or national security threats.

Local personnel are trained and closely supervised by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the largest investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which is charged with enforcing immigration laws in the country's interior.

The little-used provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act that grants the local authority has gained statewide attention since February, when ICE officials finalized an agreement with Los Angeles County to allow specially trained local authorities to perform selected federal immigration duties in county jails.

Six custody assistants are being trained to interview foreign-born inmates convicted of crimes to determine whether they can be deported, said Lt. Margarito Robles of the Los Angeles Sheriff Department's Inmate Reception Center.

Illegal residents in custody are not the only ones eligible for deportation. Foreign nationals who are legal permanent residents and have committed a serious crime or served longer than a year in prison may also be deported, said ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice.

"We believe that the project in Los Angeles County and the (proposed) project in San Bernardino County will probably result in a greater number of criminal aliens being identified and replaced in removal proceedings coming out of jails, because it will increase the number of interviews we're able to do at these facilities," Kice said.

Once a foreign-born inmate is determined to be potentially deportable, an immigration hold is placed on him so that ICE can take custody and place him in immigration proceedings before release. An immigration judge makes the final decision on whether deportation is required, Kice said.

As many as 18 percent of detained inmates in San Bernardino County are in the country illegally, Biane said. However, he believes that only about 4 percent of the county's total inmate population has been identified as such.

Biane estimated the San Bernardino County program, which would require the hiring of nine "custody specialists", could operate on an annual budget of roughly $500,000.

The Sheriff's Department declined to discuss details of the proposal until Tuesday.

Supervisor Gary Ovitt supported the sheriff's plan.

"We spend money on people that come here illegally, and break the law, when we can put the money to better use policing our neighbors, fighting crime, whatever it may happen to be," Ovitt said.

The board is expected to give the sheriff direction on his proposal Tuesday.

Brenda Gazzar can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at (909) 483-9355.