09/22/2008

States arrest immigrants under fed program

The Associated Press

FRUITA, Colo. — State Patrol trooper Mike Jamison keeps an action figure of "The Thing" on his passenger seat - a nod to the Fantastic Four, which is what Jamison and three colleagues charged with enforcing immigration law on western Colorado's highways call themselves.

His car also has a DVD burner that documents every traffic stop he makes to provide evidence for potential immigration prosecutions - and catch any racial profiling.

"If I'm doing something wrong, and not doing what I'm supposed to be doing, I'm going to get caught," Jamison said on a recent ride-along on Interstate 70, a pipeline for immigrant smuggling from the West to Denver and cities farther east.

Colorado's state patrol is among dozens of police agencies nationwide taking advantage of a federal training program to identify and detain suspected illegal immigrants. Since the program began in 2006, these agencies have made more than 68,000 arrests for immigration-related violations, says Carl Rusnok of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

ICE has trained about 800 officers in 18 states to prepare charging documents and issue immigration detainers. Eighty training requests are pending from police departments, state patrols, sheriff's offices and corrections departments.

Colorado created its state patrol unit during a 2006 special legislative session that was sparked by the arrests of more than 100 suspected illegal immigrants in crashes and traffic stops in a two-day period.

The unit has arrested 930 suspected illegal immigrants since it became operational in July 2007, ICE says. Colorado troopers also investigated 40 human smuggling cases that went to court, the state patrol says.

Other states with ICE agreements include California, Georgia and Florida. Arizona has seven participating agencies, North Carolina eight, and Virginia has the most with nine. Since January 2006, Arizona's Maricopa County Sheriff's Department leads in arrests with 15,000.

Generally, those detained go before an immigration judge for a decision on whether they should be deported, said ICE spokesman Tim Counts.

ICE has budgeted $42 million in fiscal year 2008 for the training, up from $5 million in 2006. The program includes immigration law, the use of Homeland Security databases to identify illegal immigrants, and Spanish lessons.

After weeks of training, 22 Colorado troopers were stationed in areas where ICE says human trafficking abounds.

The troopers only can stop vehicles for traffic reasons. "I've seen suspected loads (of illegal immigrants) on the highway and if I don't see a reason to stop them, I have to let them go," Jamison said.

In central Colorado, El Paso County sheriff's deputies who have taken ICE training are stationed at the county jail to help expedite removal of illegal immigrants from the crowded facility, said Sheriff Terry Maketa. They have arrested 140 people for immigration violations.

Some police agencies balk at taking on what they consider a federal responsibility. At a legislative hearing this year, the County Sheriffs of Colorado and the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police said they didn't want to do Washington's job.

Police Chief Daniel Oates in the sprawling Denver suburb of Aurora said turning officers into de facto immigration agents would undermine community trust. Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson cited the financial burden of having officers concentrate on immigration enforcement.

The debate about enforcing immigration law on Colorado's roads was rekindled by a Sept. 4 crash that killed three at an Aurora ice cream store - including a 3-year-old boy. The man suspected of causing the crash, 23-year-old Francis M. Hernandez, is a Guatemala native whom ICE says is in the country illegally. Nine law enforcement agencies had arrested Hernandez for traffic violations before the crash, but he never was reported to ICE, Counts said.

In Fruita, a town of 6,500 at the foot of the majestic Colorado National Monument, Jamison swung his patrol car through the dirt median to pursue a car flashing by at more than 90 mph. As soon he turned on his lights, the DVD burner began recording.

If Jamison had determined during the stop that the driver was an illegal immigrant, he had the authority to take the driver to an ICE detention facility. As it turned out, he cited the driver for not wearing a seat belt.

Jamison says that when he tells people what he does, most respond by saying '"Well, it's about time somebody started doing that.'"

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