Mesa could find out next week if it will receive federal funding to train detention officers on how to better identify and process prisoners who are illegal immigrants.
In a March 13 letter to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, police Chief George Gascón asked the federal government to pay for the training of 10 detention officers in the City Jail. His letter followed a December letter from the City Council to Michael Chertoff, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, requesting the funding.
Gascón said he wants the training for his detention officers so they have more tools to identify illegal immigrants arrested for crimes and be able to better document their criminal history. For example, Gascón said if someone is arrested by Mesa police and is deported and then returns to commit another crime, he or she could face an enhanced penalty.
Vinnie Picard, ICE spokesman in Phoenix, said the program, formally called 287(g), provides law enforcement agencies with training as well as the technology needed to access immigration databases.
The training would take about a month and would give detention officers an "additional level of expertise" in developing an investigation and assessing immigration status, Gascón said. Mesa jail officials already ask prisoners their immigration status after an arrest, but the money would allow the staff to access more tools.
Picard said $25 million has been allotted to the program in fiscal year 2007-08, a $10 million increase from the prior fiscal year. He did not know what the cost would be to train the 10 Mesa officers.
According to the ICE Web site, the program is credited with identifying more than 50,000 people who are suspected of being in the country illegally. Most of these people are in jail.
Also, more than 700 officers have been trained and certified with the federally funded program. Locally, those include officers with the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Phoenix police, the Arizona Department of Corrections and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. In fact, nearly a third of all 287(g)-trained officers are in Arizona, Picard said.
Gascón said he'd like the training for 10 detention officers because that would mean there would always be someone at the jail who could help better identify prisoners' immigration status.
"They already work with ICE ... this is not necessarily new," Gascón said. "This is an enhancement, it's continuing to improve our operation, continue fighting crime and improve public safety in Mesa."