Sheriff to ID illegal migrant inmates

MANATEE, FL --Nearly a dozen sheriff's jailhouse deputies will be trained to spot illegal immigrants being booked at the county jail for possible deportation under federal funding approved for the county Thursday.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement program allows authorities to identify prisoners during the booking process, a system officials say can now take days because of fraudulent documents or aliases.

It sends home illegal immigrants who have been previously deported or served sentences for certain felonies or violent crimes, said Manatee Sheriff's Maj. Connie Shingledecker, who has worked to obtain the funding since last year.

"If they're removed from our community and taken back to their country of origin, hopefully not to return, that has taken a criminal out of our community," Sheriff Brad Steube said.

Five deputies will begin the four-week course July 22. Another five will follow suit in the coming weeks, said ICE spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez.

"We're not focusing on folks that just by the mere fact they're illegal are being targeted for deportation," Shingledecker said. "The whole idea is to try and keep the community as safe as possible from folks that we wouldn't want to be here."

The sheriff's office is the second agency in Florida to secure the so-called 287(g) program, behind Collier County.

"It's admirable," said David Caulkett, vice president for the Hialeah-based Floridians for Immigration Enforcement. "I'd like to see 287(g) in the entire state of Florida."

More than 60,000 immigrants have been identified through the program since January 2006. It has taken hold in 55 other agencies nationwide and trained 765 officers, according to ICE.

"This effort will give the Sheriff's Office the training and authority they need to help find and deport illegal immigrants who violate our laws and commit crimes in our communities," U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, said in a statement.

But the program is not without controversy.

Immigration activists say the message to the immigrants here illegally will be to hide, though the effort does not target the community as a whole.

"They're not going to understand the intricacies of that," said activist Jim Delgado, a local personal injury and criminal attorney. "What they're going to be told by their neighbor is, 'they're deporting people.' "

The move, they say, undermines years of work by activists encouraging the illegal immigrant population to report crime and cooperate with authorities.

"We're going to keep away witnesses," said activist C.J. Czaia, a local attorney and Manatee Democratic Party chair. "We want undocumented people to go to law enforcement."

And it further pushes the immigrant community underground and deepens a community divide, they say.

"We should be thinking about how do we mend the fences, how do we come together," Delgado said. "In actuality, I think this is going to create a bigger divide between the two communities."