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Some local law enforcement officers are tackling illegal immigration while President Bush and Congress debate what to do.
These officers are making arrests, warning employers not to hire illegal immigrants and training deputies to spot phony identification:

• In Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio has jailed more than 140 illegal immigrants accused of conspiring with a "coyote," or smuggler, to sneak across the border. A state law enacted last fall paved the way for the arrests.

• Garrett Chamberlain, the police chief in New Ipswich, N.H., arrested an illegal immigrant on a criminal trespassing charge last year for being in the country.

• In Allen County, Ohio, Sheriff Daniel Beck has made it a priority to train deputies to spot phony identification.

• About 100 miles away in Butler County, Ohio, Sheriff Richard Jones is putting up billboards warning employers that hiring illegal immigrants is against the law. He also has billed the federal government $150,000 for what he says is the cost of jailing illegal immigrants who have broken the law.

The sheriffs say they're frustrated by the federal government's inability to control its borders. "I support President Bush, I voted for him both times, but on immigration, I give him an F-minus," Jones says.

The proactive sheriffs have their critics, too. "They can't do anything, and they shouldn't," says Firooz Namei, a Cincinnati attorney who handles immigration cases. "Can you imagine if every sheriff or police chief was able to make arrests how they saw fit?"

Brent Wilkes, national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a Latino civil rights organization, says local authorities should leave immigration enforcement to the federal government.

"Our criminal justice system is built on the basis that the punishment should fit the crime," Wilkes says. "When you see someone acting far beyond the nature of the crime, you have to be suspicious of the motivation."

The proper role of state and local officers in immigration control is a hot issue, says Mary Ann Viverette, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the police chief in Gaithersburg, Md. The topic was discussed at a national meeting last month.

Some members said local authorities should not be involved in enforcing immigration laws because that would make all immigrants — legal and illegal — less likely to assist police in investigations, Viverette says.

Others said local officers should get involved because illegal immigrants are breaking the law.

Senate leaders are nearing a deal on a sweeping immigration bill that would give millions of illegal immigrants a chance to become citizens. The House of Representatives has passed a tougher bill that would impose criminal penalties on those who sneak into the USA.

Rick Glancey, interim executive director of the Texas Border Sheriff's Coalition, says something has to be done.

"Heaven forbid we have another Sept. 11 and the federal government points toward a border county," Glancey says. "We don't want them to say, 'Why didn't you do something?' "

Powerless to make arrests if immigrants are in his county illegally, Beck focuses on violations he can act on — such as possession of fraudulent documents.

Sixty of his officers received special training. "We have to know who we're talking to to file charges and to run background checks," Beck says.

Chamberlain says local police "shouldn't have to worry" about threats to national security from illegal immigration. "That's the purpose of Homeland Security."

Until Congress acts, he says, he won't back down. "I can't just look the other way," he says.