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Winnebago Tribe wants Dakota County sheriff to end immigration enforcement initiative

March 5, 2018

Opponents of the Dakota County sheriff’s initiative to enforce federal immigration laws in the northeast Nebraska jurisdiction pledge to continue their advocacy.

Sheriff Chris Kleinberg signed an agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in early January.

“We’re still advocating against it,’’ said Cristina Topete of South Sioux City, Nebraska. Topete is a community organizer with the Latino group Unity in Action. dakota county sheriff

Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska Chairman Frank White urged Kleinberg last week to cancel the agreement. White said he is concerned that tribal members living in Dakota County or traveling through there to shop in South Sioux City and Sioux City, Iowa — near the tribe’s reservation — will face racial profiling.

Implementation of the program is unnecessary and has the potential to victimize racial minorities, and damage the fragile public trust between tribal members and the Sheriff’s Office, White said.

Kleinberg applied to join the federal crackdown on illegal immigration in November. The Dakota County Sheriff’s Office was the first in Nebraska to seek an agreement with ICE to deputize trained jailers to enforce immigration laws locally. About 60 law enforcement agencies across the country participate in what is called the 287(g) program.

By mid-December, nearly 50 Dakota County businesses signed a letter asking the sheriff to drop the effort. They said that empowering deputies to enforce federal immigration laws would be a waste of local tax dollars and could lead to civil rights violations. They cited concerns that the program would discourage immigrant families from reporting crime to law enforcement and would significantly affect local business employees and customers.

In January, State Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha introduced Legislative Bill 1082 to require jails, law enforcement agencies and the Nebraska State Patrol to provide public notice before entering into agreements to enforce federal immigration law. The bill has not been advanced from committee and has not been made a priority, which means it is unlikely to be debated on the floor.

Kleinberg has said the program has been misunderstood and is nothing more than training deputies to know what they should and should not do when an undocumented immigrant lands in jail.