WILMINGTON -- Illegal immigration brought Sen. Elizabeth Dole to Carolina Beach Tuesday. She was there to discuss a new program for law enforcement. Sen. Dole met with sheriffs from across the state to discuss a program that will help law enforcement identify and eventually deport illegal immigrants who commit crimes. That was the case last year in Brunswick County when Ramiro Gallegos, an illegal immigrant, plead guilty to the drunken driving accident that killed a man and left his wife in a coma. This program delegates the authority of identifying illegal immigrants to county sheriffs departments. Up until this point they have not had the ability to effectively identify illegal aliens to take action toward deportation. Brunswick County Sheriff Ron Hewett said, "So many times we have illegal immigrants come into our jail under a name, new names each time, and we really don't know who these people are, whether they're here legally or illegally, and what kind of criminal activity they've been involved in." One of the tools law enforcement officers will use to identify illegal aliens is a national database that will be shared between local and federal authorities. So far Alamance, Cabarrus, Gaston and Mecklenburg Counties have already partnered with ICE through a program started in 1996 that trains and certifies local law enforcement officers. Those counties have access to several ICE programs, including one that helps identify illegal immigrants processed at jails and prisons. An estimated 400,000 illegal immigrants live in North Carolina, and sheriffs across the state have said they are taking up an increasingly larger share of jail beds.
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