ORANGE, Calif. - The ACLU of Southern California urges Orange County supervisors to reject a proposal to cross-designate deputies as immigration officers in jails.

ACLU/SC staff will speak against the plan at the Tuesday meeting at which the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on a Memorandum of Agreement between the Sheriff's Department and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

'Any plan to take deputies away from their everyday duties threatens public safety,' said ACLU/SC staff attorney Nora Preciado. 'Blurring the line between local law enforcement and immigration enforcement will make it harder for police to serve all residents, and particularly vulnerable groups such as day laborers and victims of domestic violence.'

National law-enforcement experts oppose cross-designating local police as immigration officers because of the threat to public safety from undermining relations between police and immigrant communities. And a former Costa Mesa police chief called a similar plan in his city a 'huge mistake.'

Although this plan is scaled back from Sheriff Michael Carona's original proposal it still does not address the ACLU/SC's concerns. Preciado spelled out the ACLU/SC's position in a letter to Orange County supervisors last week:

* Chilling Effect on Immigrant-Law Enforcement Relations: Even the perception that sheriff's deputies are involved in immigration policing makes immigrants reluctant to seek help when they are victims of crime or volunteer information when they are witnesses. Victims of domestic violence are especially vulnerable in this scenario.

* Potential for Civil Rights Abuses: 'Immigration laws are extremely complicated,' Preciado wrote to county supervisors. Deputies will receive only four weeks of training; in contrast, the federal immigration officers they replace receive four or five months of training. Undocumented immigrants could be denied due process if they are deported before the underlying charges are addressed.

* Unknown and Hidden Costs: Deputies would replace Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers at an unknown cost to taxpayers. The Sheriff's Department acknowledges training even a few deputies will cost more than $100,000 a year, but the real costs are hidden: deputy time lost checking prisoners' immigration status; detention costs for immigrants awaiting deportation; and potentially increased crime caused by diverting deputies

from policing strategies that work.

* Overburdened Department: Removing deputies from protecting the public and designating them as full-time federal immigration officers threatens the safety of our community. The Sheriff's Department can improve public safety more effectively by active, community-based policing.

In the letter to county supervisors, the ACLU/SC also asked that any proposal that is passed not be expanded to field personnel who come into contact with the broader community. And it said a strengthened Sheriff's Community Coalition, not the Sheriff's Department, must oversee any such plan. Even though the overwhelming majority of members of the Community Coalition oppose the proposal, the sheriff's department ignored their input. The Community Coalition must be given the power to hold the department accountable.