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King to press immigration enforcement

U.S. Border Patrol agent Richard Funke looks for

U.S. Border Patrol agent Richard Funke looks for footprints from illegal immigrants crossing the U.S.- Mexico border near Nogales, Arizona. (Dec. 7, 2010) Credit: Getty Images

As Republican Congressman Peter King wrestles away chairmanship of the House's Homeland Security Committee from Democrats, he plans to put the spotlight on an issue that he sees as paramount to national security: immigration enforcement.

King, who takes charge of the committee next week, said he intends to hold hearings, push bills and seek funding to bolster the fight against illegal immigration. He favors workplace raids and improved cooperation between local law enforcement and federal agencies.

"There is a lack of urgency by the administration," said King, of Seaford. "They are confining deportations primarily to immigrants arrested for serious crimes and, while this is considered harsh, I do believe that the workplace raids do send the signal that we are serious about enforcement."

The most tangible initiative that King is eyeing is the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Secure Communities program, which allows police departments and jails to run fingerprints of those arrested through immigration databases. Those identified as immigration-law violators are flagged for deportation.

The program, started under George W. Bush and greatly expanded by the Obama administration, is credited with helping to make the last fiscal period a record year for deportations.

New York joined the program in May and King said Nassau Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey and Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy have expressed interest. King wants to offer an incentive for local officials to use the program.

"There should be money going to local police who work on immigration enforcement," King said.

Mulvey confirmed through a spokesman that he believes such a partnership "would be an effective mechanism for us to convey information pertaining to criminal conduct and federal enforcement."

The enforcement focus doesn't sit well with immigrant advocates.

"It's a concern," said Maryann Slutsky, director of Long Island WINS, which advocates for wider reforms and legalization.

Slutsky said local enforcement "creates fear in the community and is a risk to public safety" because undocumented immigrants would be less likely to cooperate with police.

But King said there shouldn't be any push for reform until the country has a secure border and is willing to deport those who break the law. That goal, he said, is "at least several years off."

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