Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie wants to join a federal program to identify and deport illegal immigrants who are arrested in and around Las Vegas.
Gillespie told the Las Vegas Review-Journal for a Thursday report that the program would center on the Clark County jail, and would not change a policy that prevents officers on the streets from asking people their immigration status.
The sheriff did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment.
The department recently applied to join a U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement program that would give jail officials access to a federal immigration violator database and help track foreign-born inmates.
Officials say they currently have no reliable system for tracking illegal immigrants at the regional jail in downtown Las Vegas.
If the application is accepted, eight jail deputies would effectively become deputized immigration officers, officials said.
Nationally, 34 local and state police groups participate in the program, including three agencies in Arizona and four in California, said Virginia Kice, ICE regional spokeswoman in Laguna Niguel, Calif.
She said 80 more requests for membership in the federally funded program are pending.
Half the existing programs focus on enforcement at jails, where deputies must complete a four-week training program before participating.
Tom Townsend, a member of Las Vegas-based Americans4America, an anti-immigration group, applauded the step as "a good start toward
getting this problem under control."
But Leticia Saucedo, co-director of the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, expressed concern that immigrants would fear cooperating with police investigating criminal acts.
Vicenta Montoya, a Las Vegas immigration lawyer, said the jail program "makes more sense than police officers trying to act as immigration agents out in the field when they encounter someone at a traffic stop."
"It will all depend on how the process is implemented," she said.
The Review-Journal reported in July that ICE took 466 illegal immigrants from the detention center last year, or fewer than 1 percent of the 70,000 inmates who were in the jail at some point during the year.
The federal Department of Homeland Security estimates that Nevada has up to 240,000 illegal immigrants, the 10th largest population in the country.
The number of full-time ICE employees in the state recently ranked 30th.
In August, the local ICE office added a team of agents to conduct daily roundups of foreign nationals who have ignored deportation orders.