MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – All week, WCCO Radio is tackling the topic of immigration with a series of stories from Minnesota. What is the role of law enforcement when it comes to immigration?  WCCO’s Susie Jones continues our special report: “An Undocumented Future: Minnesota in a New Age of Immigration?”

Whose job is it to enforce immigration laws?

That question came up recently when a Metro Transit police officer was caught on tape asking a light rail train rider about his immigration status

The officer is heard asking the man, “Are you here illegally?”

In a statement, Metro Transit said their police force is not trained or empowered to act as federal immigration authorities and the main priority is to ensure Metro Transit riders and the communities they serve are safe.

When Hennepin County Sheriff’s deputies respond to a crime, Sheriff Rich Stanek said they are not required to ask about a person’s status.

“Being in this country illegally, no matter how you got here, is a civil issue. Not a criminal issue, but a civil issue. Local law enforcement has no authority to enforce that civil part of federal law,” Stanek said.

But, he said when suspects are arrested and booked into the jail their fingerprints are checked by the FBI, and if they are illegally in this country the sheriff said they’ll notify the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, that they have the person.

He said once a person has posted bail, or done their time, they can’t hold them without a detention order from a court.

“But even the ones they say, ‘Sheriff we really want these 12,’ they only come to get, on average, four of the 12 and let the other eight walk free out into the streets of our community. Now they don’t like that message, and this is when the great spin comes in,” he said

Officials with the ICE office in the Twin Cities dispute those claims.

“With respect to Sheriff Stanek, in particular, our office is continuing to work with him behind the scenes, and we prefer not to continue to have the conversation in public,” Shawn Neudauer, a spokesperson for ICE, said.

As far as the role of ICE in Minnesota, Neudauer said there are misconceptions about what agents do on a daily basis.

“We conduct what we call targeted enforcement, meaning that we are looking for very specific people.” he said

He said they don’t do raids or sweeps of large groups of suspected illegal immigrants, but they will do round up’s of known at large criminal aliens that they have identified.

“People who either missed a court date with the immigration court system, who were given the opportunity to leave the country on their own and didn’t or for whatever reason we know are here illegally either with or without a deportation order in effect, we will find them and send them where they are supposed to be,” he said

Arrests of immigrants suspected to be in the U.S. illegally have soared in the early months of the Trump administration. The number of arrests rose nearly 40 percent between Jan. 22 and April 29, compared to this time last year. Of those immigrants, 41,300 were arrested for deportation. Nearly 11,000 had no criminal convictions.

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