Orange County Sheriff’s Department officials said Thursday they planned to train as many as 500 deputies to enforce federal immigration laws, becoming the latest Southern California police agency to become more actively involved in immigration issues.
The move comes as police departments in Los Angeles and elsewhere have begun tinkering with the strict barrier between officers and immigration officials.
The Los Angeles Police Department and a number of other big-city police agencies for years have prohibited officers from seeking residency information from crime victims and witnesses. The policies have been aimed at making illegal immigrants more willing to cooperate with authorities.
Now those policies have begun to bend.
Several factors appear to be involved. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, some politicians and academics have questioned whether “sanctuary rules” limiting cooperation between police and immigration officials have unnecessarily tied the hands of law enforcement and impeded anti-terrorism efforts.
Local police departments also have been concerned about the rise of international street gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha, whose members cross state and international borders.
The training would allow deputies to enforce federal immigration laws when they were involved in special investigations focusing on targets including sexual predators and gang members. The deputies wouldn’t randomly patrol for illegal immigrants, officials said, but they could use their new powers in larger criminal investigations.
Orange County’s effort comes as the LAPD works on a clarification of its sanctuary rule, known as Special Order 40, which was adopted in 1979 under then-Chief Daryl F. Gates. The new guidelines would allow officers to arrest illegal immigrants who have been deported after criminal convictions but then reenter the United States.
Under the proposed rules, which still must be approved by the Police Commission, LAPD officers who encounter such people would call their supervisors, who would contact federal immigration officials. If a suspect was once convicted of a serious crime and deported, officers could seek a federal warrant and then make the arrest.