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Unity in Action petitions against immigration enforcement program in Dakota County

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Dakota County Jail

A local Latino advocacy agency has filed a petition with 600 signatures opposing the Dakota County Sheriff's Office's plan to participate in a federal program that deputizes jailers to enforce U.S. immigration laws.

SOUTH SIOUX CITY | A local Latino advocacy agency has submitted 600 signatures against Dakota County's application to participate in a federal immigration enforcement program.

A group of community members and representatives of Unity in Action presented the Dakota County Sheriff's office Friday afternoon with a stack of signed papers representing community opposition to the county's request to join a federal program known as 287(g), which deputizes jailers to enforce U.S. immigration laws.

"We had community members who really felt this wasn't something they wanted in the community," said Cristina Topete, a community organizer with Unity in Action. "We hope that (Sheriff Chris Kleinberg) withdraws from the application." 

The sheriff's office is the first agency in Nebraska and one of only 60 nationwide to apply for the federal program, which authorizes U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to enter into agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies to allow officers to perform immigration law enforcement functions after the officers complete specialized training.

The program allows correction officers to act as ICE agents to decide what actions need to be taken for both illegal immigrants and legal refugees, those with work visas and those with a green card when they are arrested.

Opponents argue the program erodes trust between law enforcement and immigrants and can lead to racial profiling.

"More than anything, (we've heard) a concern for the application and how it would affect the county and people in it," Topete said. "Scared for family members for parents, themselves and their children. Their concern was for their family’s well-being."

Dakota County Sheriff Chris Kleinberg has downplayed the impact of the program, saying it will help his department more efficiently process undocumented workers who have been arrested and incarcerated in the county jail.

A deputy contacted by The Journal Friday confirmed receipt of the signatures but deferred any questions until the return of Kleinberg, who is currently on medical leave.  

Topete said she was hoping to speak with Kleinberg today but plans to meet with him once he returns. 

"We will be collecting more petitions and signatures, and we will be following up with him," she said.

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