ORANGE, Calif. - Dozens of concerned community members filled a Santa Ana forum Thursday night in opposition to Orange County Sheriff Michael Carona's proposal to enter into an agreement with the federal government to enforce immigration laws.

The forum, which was sponsored by several local groups including the ACLU Southern California, raised concerns about the plan, which forum participants said would not improve public safety, but would instead hinder it while leaving local taxpayers to foot the bill.

"This proposal does not take into account the actual cost or the harm it will cause to community policing," said Belinda Escobosa Helzer, an ACLU/SC staff attorney. "Law enforcement already has the authority to arrest previously deported felons. This proposal will not solve crime, something law enforcement officials agree with nationwide, and it will not make the public safer."

Despite overwhelming public opposition to the proposals, Orange County and the city of Costa Mesa are slated to enter into an agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The Costa Mesa City Council agreed last week to allow their city police to enforce federal immigration law and become a part of Orange County Sheriff Michael Carona's October proposal, which has yet to be approved by the County Board of Supervisors.

"Instead Orange County will be stuck paying the price for a costly and needless endeavor that is potentially harmful to the safety of our community. Even the former Costa Mesa police chief said the plan would be a 'huge mistake,'" Escobosa Helzer said.

Three major areas of concern with the proposal include:

* Orange County law enforcement is already stretched thin. Under the proposal overburdened officers and deputies will be asked to double their jobs and would have to master and enforce both their regular duties and added immigration enforcement.

* Even though deputies and police officers would be carrying out federal duties, the bill would be passed onto city and county residents who would have to subsidize federal responsibilities with local tax dollars - the amount could easily balloon into the hundreds of millions.

* If local law enforcement is permitted to enforce immigration law in addition to criminal law, the immigrant community will be reluctant to seek help when they are the victims or witnesses of crimes. That means if an immigrant witnesses an attack, a robbery or even a rape they may be hesitant to report the crime or describe the perpetrator to police.

Groups participating in the event include: ACLU of Southern California, Anti-Defamation League Orange County/Long Beach Region, Los Amigos of Orange County, South Asian Network, Santa Ana LULAC Council #147, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).