A visit from U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and discussion of illegal immigrants and their financial impact on local jails are expected to be two highlights of the upcoming National Sheriffs Association Convention.

The convention is being held in Salt Lake City for the first time since 1993. An estimated 6,000 to 8,000 people representing more than 3,000 sheriff offices from across the country are expected to attend. Opening ceremonies were scheduled for Monday although some seminars will be held this weekend. The convention runs though Wednesday.

The recently appointed executive director of the association is former Salt Lake County Sheriff Aaron Kennard.

One of the highlights will be Tuesday when the U.S. Marshals Service is expected to propose a partnership with the Sheriffs Association in dealing with the problem of illegal immigrants, Kennard said. Part of that proposal may include cross-deputizing sheriff's officers to help Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Marshals Office until the Department of Justice can hire more of its own agents.

"We will try to forge a partnership and put deputies on the ground," Kennard said.

Sheriff's deputies are already on the "front line" battling the illegal immigration issue, Kennard said. The U.S. Border Patrol and deputies in the Southwest could be most affected by this partnership, he said. The proposal would be similar to the COPS program from the Clinton administration that put more officers on the streets, Kennard said.

All sheriff's offices are being impacted by illegal immigration, he said, but not necessarily in the area of enforcement. The biggest issue is local sheriff departments are housing the immigrants in their jails and are not being reimbursed by the federal government, Kennard said,

"That's what hurt me as sheriff, and it's hurting (Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim) Winder as sheriff," he said. "We need to pressure the president to get back the funding to help those of us on the front line."

Funding has been cut drastically by the Bush administration, said Kennard, a Republican, who served as sheriff for 16 years.

"We need more funding, especially (to combat) meth and drugs and illegals," he said.

In addition to illegal immigrants, Kennard said sheriff's offices are facing increasing problems with drug cartels from south of the border, which are presenting a danger to deputies on the street.

Kennard and other members of the association hope to convey these concerns during a round-table discussion Tuesday with Gonzales.

Other topics to be discussed during the convention include the housing of inmates, active shooter incidents and new law enforcement technology.


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