Embattled but reigned-in effort to track down illegal immigrants expands

WASHINGTON — A federal program that deputizes state and local law enforcement agents to catch illegal immigrants is expanding under the Obama administration, after changes announced this summer intended to curb alleged racial profiling and other police tactics.

The Department of Homeland Security is expected to report today that a small number of the 66 participating agencies have dropped out because of the new federal requirements, officials said. Those losses are offset by applications from 13 additional police and sheriff's departments, a federal official said, speaking on condition of anonymity before the formal announcement.

Nationwide, the program identified about 60,000 illegal immigrants for deportation over the past year, the highest number since the program was expanded nationwide in 2006. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in July said agencies that receive federal grants and training under the program would have 90 days to agree to new terms aimed at ending controversial police practices identified by congressional auditors and civil rights groups. Critics cited cases in which police conducted roadside stops and neighborhood sweeps aimed at Hispanics and other ethnic groups, often arresting minorities for traffic and other minor offenses in pursuit of illegal immigrants.

Instead of scaling back the program, as its critics wanted, Homeland Security has reshaped it, reining in local police units that target illegal immigrants at large, directing them to focus on those who commit major drug offenses or violent crimes, especially those already incarcerated.

Hundreds arrested

Immigration officials said Thursday that a 6-month, 89-city operation focused on gangs led to the arrests of 1,785 people. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said 35 percent of those arrested have violent criminal histories, 16 are gang leaders and more than 1,400 are suspected of being gang members. About 905 face criminal charges. The Operation Community Shield program ended Sept. 30 and involved federal, state and local law enforcement officers.

Associated Press

Embattled but reigned-in effort to track down illegal immigrants expands 10/16/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 16, 2009 12:00am]

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