Berks DA believes immigration program unnecessary

READING, Pa. - A controversial partnership between local and federal authorities continues to prompt questions in Berks County.

County leaders came together Thursday to discuss the federal 287(g) program, including Berks County District Attorney John Adams.

U.S. Immigration and Customers Enforcement (ICE) describes the program as one of its top partnership initiatives. The agreement gives state or local authorities delegated authority for immigration enforcement in their jurisdictions.

Berks County Sheriff Eric Weaknecht has expressed interest in taking part in the program, but he said it would apply exclusively to central booking.

The proposal has critics in Berks. Hundreds of people who took part in "May Day" protests earlier this week said one reason they came out was to show their opposition to the program.

At a the meeting with the county commissioners and Weaknecht, Adams expressed he felt the program was duplicative. He said he's office already has a memorandum of understanding with ICE and cooperates fully with the agency.

"We have an ICE agent who is, actually has a desk in our office. There's also an ICE agent assigned to the Reading Police Department," said Adams.

He added his office also has four task force officers who perform ICE duties. Adams said he feels immigration enforcement is better left with the federal officials.

The decision, however, will ultimately come to the county commissioners. Commissioners Christian Leinbach and Mark Scott said they support sheriff's proposal.

"I'm not talking about supporting anything beyond the central booking. If ICE is able to provide an individual in that facility at all times, that's different. My understanding is that's not an option," Leinbach said.

"My support is unequivocal within the perimeters of the program that the sheriff intends to implement," Scott said.

Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt said he's undecided but is inclined to vote "no" at this point. He added the Berks County Residential Center also provides federal immigration enforcement locally, and there's already unease in the community.

"We sit here and rail all the time about federal and state unfunded mandates. This is job and role of the federal government," Barnhardt said.

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