<!--:es-->Feds hold up funding to give cops more enforcement power<!--:-->

Feds hold up funding to give cops more enforcement power

Tough new immigration laws went into effect in Missouri in August, giving the Missouri Highway Patrol more power to arrest people suspected of being in the United States illegally.

St. Charles County Sheriff’s deputies were also in line to be trained in immigration enforcement until a few weeks ago, when Sheriff Tom Neer received a phone call from The U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE. Funding for the program to train his officers had been cut, and St. Charles County would have to wait until next year to see if enough funding would be available to train members of his office.

That could hamper the ability of local law enforcement officers to take an active role in immigration enforcement, Neer said, because local law enforcement will be unable to verify the immigration status of suspected undocumented immigrants presented for incarceration.

“The way it is now, we arrest somebody and you think they may be (here illegally), we don’t have the expertise or authority at local level to go through process of checking status on these arrestees if we suspect they are illegal immigrants,” Neer said.

County sheriff’s deputies must contact ICE with any information on suspected undocumented immigrants.

Without funding for a program to give sheriff’s deputies the authority to handle suspected immigration violations, a much-hyped plan to use local officers to help crack down on undocumented immigrants seems unlikely to pan out in St. Charles County.

Highway patrol

trains some officers

The Missouri Highway Patrol has 18 officers with authority and training from ICE to apprehend suspected undocumented immigrants and begin processing their cases.

Six of those 18 are in the St. Louis metropolitan area. The group works with the Gateway Task Force, concentrating on criminal offenses that deal with harboring and transporting undocumented immigrants, smuggling and identity theft.

Lt. John Hotz with the Missouri Highway Patrol said organization receives a little less than $85,000 a year for expenses related to immigration training. Each of the 18 officers works one week each year processing cases and may be called into immigration duty by the Highway Patrol at any time.

Under the current arrangement, officers who have completed training may take suspected undocumented immigrants into custody and begin preliminary case processing for the apprehended. In the past, such processing has been done only by ICE agents. The six trained St. Louis-area officers can begin the deportation process if they confirm an arrested immigrant has come in to the country illegally.

Local county law enforcement officers without training from ICE must contact immigration authorities when they have apprehended a suspected undocumented immigrant. They have no power to process immigration cases.

Outgoing Gov. Matt Blunt’s office has said more than 300 suspected undocumented immigrants have been detained in Missouri since August 2007.

Blunt’s press secretary, Jessica Robinson, said she could not say exactly how much the extra immigration enforcement was costing taxpayers.

“It’s part of the cost of maintaining the rule of law,” Robinson said.

Many apply for ICE funding

Lt. Craig McGuire with the St. Charles County Sheriff’s Office said the county is one of many that have applied for expanded immigration enforcement authority.

“Several local law enforcement agencies have applied for training in order to process these subjects after arrested to check on immigration status,” McGuire said. “Our application was processed with many others, and we received a call that training had not been funded for 2009 through Homeland Security.”

Blunt made immigration a cornerstone of his agenda in 2007, and the training money given to the Highway Patrol stemmed from an immigration bill pushed by State Sen. Scott Rupp, a Republican from Wentzville. The bill was designed to crack down on undocumented immigrants.

Rupp said he thinks St. Charles County will try to continue to lead the charge among Missouri counties for local immigration enforcement.

“St. Charles County was trying to be a leader and they were saying, ‘we’re going to go do this,’ Rupp said. “A lot of counties are saying, ‘we’ll wait until you make us do it.’”

Rupp suggested giving local officers the power to handle suspected immigration offenses is integral to effective enforcement all over the state.

“When we engage local law enforcement with training and funding for training, I think we’re going to see that many more successful apprehensions,” he said.

The suspected employment of undocumented immigrants in recent years at two O’Fallon construction sites set off a vigorous public debate about immigration enforcement.