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Immigration Law Training Cut

Funding limits mean Orange County will send only about a dozen deputies to classes.

October 07, 2006|H.G. Reza | Times Staff Writer

A plan to train hundreds of Orange County sheriff's deputies in immigration law, once touted as a model for law enforcement nationwide, will be sharply trimmed to include only about a dozen deputies, Sheriff Michael S. Carona said Friday.

Because of limited federal funding, only 12 to 15 deputies working in jail intake will be trained, a disappointed Carona said. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that will oversee the program, is financially stretched and lacks the personnel to train more, the sheriff said.

Last year sheriff's officials said they planned to train as many as 500 deputies to enforce federal immigration laws, a number that was subsequently reduced to 200.

"I want more, but there's only so much they can do," he said. "The problem is that ICE has received so many requests from other agencies for this type of training. I'm only looking at Orange County. They're looking to accommodate agencies in all 50 states."

ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice declined to comment on the matter because, she said, a final agreement has not been reached.

But, according to Carona, money is the roadblock, with both sides still negotiating such important details as who will pay for the training. "They're saying they can pay for the computers but can't pay for the training," he said. "I said that I'm willing to pick up the cost for the training. I just want to get the program going."

After meeting with reporters in his office Friday, Carona slipped into another office where he met with staffers negotiating the cross-training agreement with ICE. He said he hoped to submit a report to the Board of Supervisors next week.

Carona's proposal received a chorus of opposition when it was aired in October 2003. Politicians and Latino community leaders were among the fiercest opponents, arguing that empowering deputies to enforce federal immigration laws would strain relations in immigrant communities.

Many police departments in California, including Santa Ana, which has a large Latino population, have traditionally seen enforcing immigration laws as creating a wedge between them and Latinos. But Costa Mesa has also asked the federal government to train its officers in immigration enforcement.

As word of a possible agreement between the sheriff and ICE leaked out midweek, some Latino leaders said they approved of limiting immigration training to jail deputies.

"If it's true that only jail deputies will be trained, it's a good sign," said Amin David, head of the Latino advocacy group Los Amigos and member of a group of community advisors to the sheriff. "Jail is a good place to find if someone is undocumented or not and a good place to weed out the criminals from our neighborhoods."

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