Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Inmate immigration status checks to begin soon (Bradenton Herald)

Inmate immigration status checks to begin soon

Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2008

After four weeks of intensive training, corrections officers at the Manatee County jail are almost ready to dig deeper into inmates' immigration status.

Five corrections officers from the jail have returned from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement training program with a working knowledge of how to navigate the web of federal immigration databases.

In one more week, those officers are projected to have the software and computers necessary to access the databases, with ICE officials setting up a network at the jail, according to Manatee County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Chris Heier.

With the ICE training under their belt, Heier and the four other officers will have authorization to place federal holds on inmates found to be in the country illegally. Five more corrections officers at the jail are in training.

"It was a rigorous training program, to say the least," Heier said. "Immigration laws are so complex, and it seems like there is an exception to every rule."

Once the program is up and running, all inmates booked into the jail who are not U.S. citizens will be vetted through the Department of Homeland Security databases.

It will allow corrections officers to put immigration holds on inmates for up to 48 hours, until ICE officials can make a decision on whether the person qualifies for deportation.

Currently, a list of all inmates who are potentially in the country illegally is sent to ICE officials to be vetted. But as ICE reviews the list, there is nothing to prevent an inmate from bonding out of jail.

"This allows us to immediately begin a more thorough investigation into a person's status," Heier said.

The handling of illegal immigrants in local jails has come under question this week.

On Monday, U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville, called for the U.S. Attorney's Office to investigate the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office's interaction with ICE prior to the release of an illegal immigrant accused of a series of rapes in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

The man, Rigoberto Moron-Martinez, 20, was arrested on a charge of violating a domestic violence injunction in Hillsborough County, but later released just days before investigators say he committed the rapes, according to reports.

With the current system of sending the daily list to ICE, which is done by most agencies in Florida, including the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, time can run out before an inmate makes bond.

"It is very possible for people to slip through the cracks who we don't want on the street," Heier said. "These cases can become high-profile. There is not much we can do when a person has the right to bond out before their status is investigated."

Officers are almost completely trained in immigration databases

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