By Terry Frieden
WASHINGTON (CNN) In a move likely to stir controversy, the state of Florida has become the first jurisdiction in the nation to agree to have state or local law enforcement officials assist the Immigration and Naturalization Service in enforcing federal immigration law, the Justice Department announced late Friday.
The statement emphasized that the memorandum of agreement between the Justice Department and Florida is very limited, involving only 35 state and local police throughout Florida, and covers only “cases involving terrorism and national security issues.”
The states of Arizona and South Carolina, and cities such as Salt Lake City and Anaheim are among jurisdictions that had previously considered helping enforce federal immigration law, but rejected the idea after local resistance. Much of the opposition has come from the Hispanic community, which fears the program is designed to enlist the help of local governments in targeting Mexican and Central American illegal immigrants.
“The state of Florida asked us for this agreement to help them,” said Justice Department spokeswoman Susan Dryden. “This is narrowly tailored so it’s only aimed at terrorism.”
Another official, requesting anonymity, acknowledged the move would prompt reaction.
”Sure it’s controversial. It’s been considered in other places but not adopted,” the official said.
Immigration attorneys and immigrant groups have complained that once police help federal authorities on immigration issues related to terrorism there would be nothing to stop them from helping search for other illegals.
A law passed in 1996 allows the local authorities to enter agreements with the federal government to help enforce all immigration laws, and does not restrict the cooperation solely to the fight against terrorism.
The agreement disclosed late Friday afternoon was signed on July 2, and training for the Florida officers involved in the program began July 9 in Orlando.
Reprinted from CNN, July 22, 2002