U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole on Tuesday announced a partnership that would give local authorities the power to enforce federal immigration laws.
The partnership between North Carolina sheriffs and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, made public at the N.C. Sheriffs' Association fall meeting at Carolina Beach, will give sheriff's offices around the state access to ICE resources. Exactly which resources has yet to be determined.
The statewide partnership is the first of its kind in the country, Dole's office said.
"I firmly believe that North Carolina can become a model for the nation on how to identify, apprehend and remove undocumented aliens who have self-identified themselves by committing crimes," Dole said in a prepared statement.
Dole had met with sheriffs in August.
Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell said that deputies in participating sheriff's offices will have limited authority over ICE resources to use when investigating cases that may involve illegal immigrants.
"This is not just a wholesale roundup of illegal aliens," Bizzell, president of the N.C. Sheriffs' Association, said in a telephone interview. "This is an opportunity for us to ID those illegal aliens ... who are ending up in our jails."
The announced partnership comes nearly two months after Dole first stated her intention to seek more federal money to help counties eager to enforce federal immigration laws.
Once trained, deputies from participating sheriff's offices would be able to check the immigration status of criminal suspects and begin deportation proceedings. A committee representing the N.C. Sheriffs' Association will meet soon with ICE officials to hash out what access local authorities will be given, Bizzell said.
"We're going to root out the problem," Bizzell said. "If you're illegal and you're committing a crime, you're a priority to us."
But the American Civil Liberties Union is concerned that such programs actually could hurt the efforts of local law enforcement officials.
"There's a chilling effect that can come from these types of programs," said Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the North Carolina ACLU. "In order to be able to catch people who pose a threat to the public, [law enforcement officials] will need local citizens to trust the police enough to come forward. What often happens is people become afraid to come forward and give police any information."
She said the program also could lead to an increase in racial and ethnic profiling.
"There's a decent likelihood that ... the more these types of programs are implemented, the more likely [profiling] is to occur," she said.
Bizzell said the partnership would not affect all immigrants, just those who are in the country illegally and committing crimes.
"It's a win-win, especially for the citizens of our counties and our state," Bizzell said. "We're tired of crime in general, but we're darn tired of crime that involves an illegal criminal alien who shouldn't be here in the first place."
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