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Local Law Enforcement Officials Begin Crackdown on Immigrants

By Paul Vitello

While lawmakers in Washington debate whether to forgive illegal immigrants their trespasses, a small but increasing number of local and state law enforcement officials are taking it upon themselves to pursue deportation cases against people who are here illegally.

In more than a dozen jurisdictions, officials have invoked a little-used 1996 federal law to seek special federal training in immigration enforcement for their officers.

In other places, the local authorities are flagging some illegal immigrants who are caught up in the criminal justice system, sometimes for minor offenses, and taking it upon themselves to alert immigration officials to their illegal status so that they can be deported.

In Costa Mesa, Calif., for example, in Orange County, the city council last year shut down a day laborer job center that had operated for 17 years, and this year authorized its police department to begin training officers to pursue illegal immigrants — a job previously left to federal agents.

In Suffolk County, N.Y., on Long Island, where a similar police training proposal was met with angry protests in 2004, county officials have quietly put a system in place that uses sheriff’s deputies to flag illegal immigrants in the county jail population.

In Putnam County, N.Y., about 50 miles north of Manhattan, eight illegal immigrants who were playing soccer in a school ball field were arrested on Jan. 9 for trespassing and held for the immigration authorities.

“I took an oath to protect the people of this county, and that means enforcing the laws of the land,” said Donald B. Smith, the Putnam County sheriff. “We have a situation in our country where our borders are not being adequately protected, and that leaves law enforcement people like us in a very difficult situation.”