If Pender County Sheriff Carson Smith apprehends a criminal who happens to be an illegal immigrant, there's not much he can do. "Right now we can only do some very fundamental checks with the names that are given to us and the date of birth," said Smith. "And the information that's given to us many times is not the correct information we have." But North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole has a plan to make the correct information available statewide. During a visit to Pender County Saturday, Dole told Sheriff Smith and local media that she wants to give local law enforcement agencies resources, training and jurisdiction to process illegal immigrants who commit crimes--and ultimately have them deported. "This is a way to zero in on people who've self identified themselves because they've committed crimes over and over," Dole said. "Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland security people have come in my office and they very much want to help our sheriffs take care of this kind of criminal activity." The Center for Immigration studies says North Carolina's overall immigrant population increased threefold between 1995 and 2005. Smith says there isn't a major problem with illegal immigrants committing crimes in Pender County. But, he added, it's always good to be prepared. "We're not overrun [with illegals committing crimes] but we're starting to see it," said Smith. "It's starting to increase. That's why this is a great time for us to be able to get involved in this." Dole says the state Sheriff's Association is currently putting together a steering committee to help move her plan forward. Two important orders of business for the committee will be determining how much the program will cost and how resources will be allocated.
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