Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones talks about reviving a long-standing program that deputizes local officers to enforce federal immigration laws. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

Butler County Sheriff’s Office wants to investigate immigration crimes

Just a few years ago, Butler County was one of dozens of jurisdictions that entered an agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to allow local officers to investigate immigration crimes after receiving special training.

But about three years ago, that portion of the program was curtailed by former president Barack Obama.

But with President Donald Trump calling for stepped-up enforcement of undocumented immigration, the program may be ripe for a revival.

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones has requested reinstatement of the investigative certification of the agreement.

Jones has been vocal about closing the borders and deporting those in the country illegally, pointing to crimes and drug trafficking in Butler County by those who are undocumented. He brashly sent a bill to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto for the $900,000 he said it cost to house about 3,000 Mexican nationals over a 10-year period in the jail.

MORE: Pay up for jailing of criminals, sheriff tells Mexico

Today, the sheriff’s office only has an administrative role with ICE.

“(Deputies) help with the deportation paperwork here and set hearings up and work with the ICE agents,” Jones said.

But the department cannot investigate immigration crimes, such as businesses suspected of employing workers illegally.

“It is a tremendous asset to have in the county,” Jones said.

Businesses who are hiring illegal immigrants then mistreating them need to be investigated and stopped, he said.

“If you are an employer and you are hiring people then over-working them and not giving them benefits, I want to arrest you and put you in jail,” Jones said. “That is not the American dream.”

Some of the largest contracts the sheriff’s office holds are to house ICE and federal prisoners at the Butler County Jail, which the sheriff has previously said can average nearly 200 daily.

MORE: Jail ‘business’ lucrative for Butler County

Some civil rights advocates have said deputizing local officials to enforce federal immigration laws could embolden police to racially profile those they encounter.

But Jones said the investigative agreement is just that — for investigation. Deputies do not question people on the street about immigration status, he said.

“This is not something where you are going out patrolling and pulling people over who you think are illegal,” Jones said.

He added that local agencies often come to Butler County for help when they have a person who has been arrested and is here illegally.

“Because there isn’t anyone else,” Jones said.

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