The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to allow sheriff’s deputies to screen for illegal immigrants at the county’s largest jail and turn them over to federal officials for possible deportation.
The program is similar to one that triggered controversy in Los Angeles County, and the Riverside County sheriff said he may propose a similar crackdown.
Under the San Bernardino County program, deputies will screen the 3,000-plus inmates at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga to establish their nationality and immigration status. Those found to be in the country illegally will be turned over to immigration authorities after serving their sentences, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Cindy Beavers.
Sheriff Gary Penrod has estimated that 15% of county inmates are illegal immigrants.
The department will enroll nine deputies in a six-week training course provided by the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The program will cost $631,044 annually in salaries, according to Supervisor Paul Biane.
“What we gain from this agreement [in San Bernardino County] is that we will have coverage in that jail 24 hours a day, and it will increase the number of criminal aliens removed from the U.S.,” said Kevin Jeffery, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent. “This program is an effort to remove the worst of the worst, to stop them from preying on their own communities.... They need to be removed from this country.”
Federal immigration officials will continue to be responsible for screening at the 1,000-inmate Central Detention Center in downtown San Bernardino.
In November, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department will begin training deputies to screen inmates. The Los Angeles County program will target only convicted inmates; San Bernardino County will interview all inmates.
Riverside County Sheriff Bob Doyle said he planned to ask county supervisors for funding to train his deputies to screen inmates as soon as federal immigration officials tell him when they can begin training.
Doyle said there was a need to screen illegal immigrants more thoroughly because federal authorities often failed to interview those charged and convicted of shorter-term crimes, such as drunk driving and theft.
The programs’ critics argue that such arrangements with local law enforcement agencies make immigrants, both legal and illegal, hesitant to contact police to report crimes because they fear deportation.
“Immigrants are often victims of crime.... If they have this perception, they may be fearful about reporting a crime to local law enforcement,” said Judy London, director of the immigrant rights project for the nonprofit immigrants advocacy group Public Counsel in Los Angeles.
“You’re eliminating the line between federal and local law enforcement. Our concern is seeing that victims of crimes are not further victimized by this mixing of responsibilities.”