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home : dakota county star top stories : dakota county star top stories
January 17, 2018

County divided: Immigration enforcement program draws strong opinions
Michelle Kuester
Dakota County Star Editor

Dakota County Sheriff Chris Kleinberg has recently come under public scrutiny for a request made to the U.S. government deputizing jailers to enforce federal immigration laws, a program called Section 287(g).

Unity in Action, a local immigrant advocacy group, has made an opposing stance known by addressing Kleinberg directly and by making waves on social media.

If the 287(g) status is accepted, selected members of Dakota County Sheriff’s Office will train for 30 days with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in Georgia in order to act as local Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“It just allows my jail to act for ICE and frees up their agents,” Kleinberg said.

Currently, if there is an individual booked in the Dakota County jail who is undocumented or violating a visa or refugee status, ICE agents in Omaha are notified. The ICE agents will then process the individual and decide if they want to take them to federal court, deport them or do nothing. According to Kleinberg, this can be a time-consuming process.

He added that being certified with 287(g) would expedite the process because the individual could be processed locally and the decision of what to do with them would mostly be left up to the local sheriff's office.

“It also just helps us understand the law better to go through this training,” Kleinberg said.

According to Kleinberg, in the last 10 months, 14.9 percent of those booked in the Dakota County jail have broken federal immigration laws. That statistic does not include those who have violated work visas and refugee statuses.

“I’m sick of people breaking the law here and wanting the sheriff to look at some laws but not others,” Kleinberg said. “My number one job in the county is to protect the people and the property of this county.”

Unity in Action has shared the stance made by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the 287(g), citing concern that Hispanic victims of crimes won’t come forward for fear of being deported, racial profiling could become rampant and the economy would suffer.

“We don't think it's the best thing for our community,” said Cristina Topete, community organizer for Unity in Action. “We fear it will really damage the relationship between the community and law enforcement.”

Kleinberg responded by saying there is legal protection for those who have crimes committed against them if they assist law enforcement with investigation or prosecution of criminal activity.

“I can actually sign a U visa and I have before,” he said. “There are mechanisms in place for me to keep them here, to protect them from being deported which I’m happy to do. I also can’t racial profile because you don’t get run through this program until you come to my jail so you’ve already had to commit a crime or break a law or have a warrant to be in jail.”

He added that any potential negative economic impact would point to a larger problem within the community.

“What are you saying? That all these employers are hiring people illegally here to work? Then we have bigger problems,” he said.

If the 287(g) initiative passes, Unity in Action hopes to stay in contact with the sheriff's office to protect members of the community.

“From what it sounds like, it's going to be approved so we'd like to have open communication with them so we can all be on the same page,” Topete said.

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