Limited Money May Limit Enforcement Of Immigration Law

Saturday, November 3rd 2007, 4:18 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- State law enforcement agencies say limited resources may prevent them from enforcing a new state law that targets illegal immigrants. "As far as I'm concerned, it's going to be business as usual," said Scott Jay, Beckham County sheriff. "I don't see where it's going to have any impact at all on local law enforcement."

The law requires local law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of anyone arrested for a felony or a DUI in a federal database known as the Status Verification System. Undocumented immigrants who are arrested for a crime must be jailed without bail and reported to federal agents.

"I'm already getting calls from citizens saying so-and-so is illegal and so-and-so is illegal," Jay said. "I think there is a misconception by a lot of citizens who think we are now going to go out, round up all the illegal immigrants and shoot them back down
to Mexico. That's just not going to happen. We don't have the time, the facilities or the manpower."

In fiscal year 2007, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported 7,400 illegal immigrants from its Dallas area district, which includes Oklahoma. Of those deported, agency spokesman Carl Rusnok said 4,950 had been convicted of a crime.

"We already work very closely with local law enforcement agencies in Oklahoma," Rusnok said. "Will we get more calls for deportation because of this new law? Who knows? If so, we'll accommodate as we can. But, as always, we will prioritize our resources."

Roger Mills County Sheriff Joe Hay already thinks the new law creates a great dilemma for him.

"I've got a 28-bed jail with 22 prisoners already in there," Hay said. "Now I'm sworn to uphold the law, but where am I supposed to put them?"

In Enid, officers won't add immigration enforcement to their list of duties, said Capt. Dean Grassino.

"We're not rounding people up," Grassino said. "We'll cooperate. If they do an immigration enforcement action, we'll assist. But we're not going to send officers out to businesses to check workers' papers and stuff. That's stuff we're not going to do."

Grassino said when a person is arrested and taken to jail the immigration status is verified. When the status can't be verified, officials make a call to immigration enforcement.

In Texas County, where a large number of immigrant workers have jobs at hog farms, Sheriff Arnold Peoples said Oklahoma's new law isn't going to change how his deputies do their job.

"We're not doing anything different than we've been doing since 1992," Peoples said.

As part of the booking process at Peoples' jail, deputies check each prisoner's immigration status. If they are in the country illegally, prisoners are held for a statutory maximum of 72 hours. If federal immigration officers don't arrive before that time, the
prisoner must be released.