ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ In a move that has drawn the ire of immigrant advocates, the U.S. government is drafting a plan that would give Florida officers the federal authority to arrest illegal immigrants deemed threats to national security.
Under the proposal, local authorities could detain suspected illegal immigrants on civil charges. They already can detain immigrants on criminal charges.
``It's a big deal, it's revolutionary,'' said Joe Greene, assistant commissioner of investigations for the Immigration and Naturalization Service. ``There's a role in homeland security for an appropriate mix of the INS with the support of local and state law enforcement officials.''
Florida would be the first state where state and local authorities carry authority previously held only by federal agents. Officials said Monday that the Florida plan may be in place by next month.
``We want to avoid that case _ where somebody has to be let go _ because we don't have the authority to detain them,'' Florida Domestic Security Chief Steve Lauer said.
Some immigrant advocates said the proposal was flawed.
``I think this is further evidence of collateral damage that we've seen since 9-11 in terms of immigrants' rights,'' said Cheryl Little, executive director for the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center in Miami.
At least 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers had Florida connections. Of the 19, three were in the country on expired visas, including Satam Al Suqami, who had a Florida driver's license listing a Boynton Beach address.
The plan being drafted by the INS and the state calls for 35 police officers, sheriff's deputies and Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents to be trained in federal immigration policies and procedures.
Federal and local officials pointed out that the INS would still handle routine immigration cases. Only in urgent situations, they said, would there be local assistance.
``We're not taking over anything,'' Lauer said.
But he admitted that exactly in what circumstances local authorities can make arrests has yet to be worked out.
The proposal also had some local officials worried that their forces would be pressed into service covering for the INS.
``The execution of this is going to demand a lot of cooperation,'' Broward County Sheriff Ken Jenne said. ``The local governments are going to be anxious to cooperate, but whether the INS has the personnel to do so is going to be another story.''
Greene said the INS isn't looking at local authorities to substitute for its own agents, but acknowledged any assistance could help his undermanned agency.
``I oversee 2,000 special agents in the county, and that's nowhere near enough to handle the responsibilities that are being asked of us,'' Greene said.