NEW ORLEANS, LA (FOX19) - A southwestern Ohio sheriff said he is so frustrated federal authorities have not restored his power to target and detain illegal immigrants that he is skeptical he will ever get it back, especially now amid uproar over the Trump administration's policy of separating immigrant children from their families.
"I will believe it when I see it," Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said in a phone interview Monday from New Orleans, where dozens of people protested the county's current immigration policies outside the National Sheriffs' Association Annual Conference.
"I am discouraged. Congress is stuck, both Democrats and Republicans, and the illegals are continuing to pour across the borders. It's a total mess."
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielson and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, who represents part of the New Orleans area, addressed Jones and hundreds of the nation's sheriffs.
"Illegal actions have and must have consequences. No more free passes, no more get out of jail free cards," Nielson told the crowd, according to the Associated Press.
Jones said about 50 protesters were arrested.
"It was actually humorous. These are probably paid protesters and they were coming here to get arrested and they were trying to disrupt the sheriff's conference," he said. "It's almost like being back home. It's no different than the protesters that come to my office also. They chain themselves to the doors."
Illegal immigration is a key issue for Jones and hundreds of other sheriffs.
Earlier this year, more than 310 sheriffs in 40 states sent a letter to Congress asking them to take action to secure America's border.
Jones was the first Midwest sheriff to raise the issue of illegal immigration. more than 15 years ago.
The outspoken, 41-year law enforcement veteran who is in his fourth term traveled to the Mexican border in Arizona to witness the impact of illegal immigration at its forefront.
Back in Butler County, Jones said he saw firsthand how illegal immigrants crowded courts, jails, schools and social service programs, costing taxpayers and local governments millions of dollars they don't have.
Jones has billed the Mexican government for costs for all the illegal immigrants he's housed at the county jail, a figure he says now totals more than $1 million.
He also has urged federal immigration officials to conduct undocumented immigrant raids at companies in his county, similar to one Tuesday at a northeast Ohio meat supplier.
He even had his deputies raid a construction site in 2007 as part of an "immigration investigation" and rounded up more than 20 Hispanic workers. That ultimately resulted in the county agreeing to pay a $100,000 settlement to Luis Rodriguez, an undocumented drywall worker who was deported as a result of the raid, along with his family.
The sheriff's office earned the authority to target and detain illegal residents back in 2008.
Under 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, police can enter into agreements with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to enforce federal immigration laws.
Until 2013, the program included "task force" agreements permitting participating police to arrest suspected immigration law violators and "jail enforcement" agreements.
State prisons and local jails also could try to identify illegals by interviewing them and checking their biographic details against Department of Homeland databases.
Currently, however, only jail enforcement agreements exist.
The Obama administration halted "task force" agreements at the end of 2012 amid racial profiling accusations and fears they negatively impacted police-community relationships.
Trump pledged during his presidential campaign to bring back and expand 287(g).
Just days after being sworn into office, he signed an executive order reinstating it.
But that order has yet to be enforced. Jones said, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is trying to "appease" Congress by allowing them make some changes first.
Now, 29 months after Trump took office, Jones and other sheriffs are in limbo, waiting and waiting for what Jones says is an important tool for local communities.
"It sends a message that the locals have the authority to enforce immigration laws in our communities. The feds are kind of busy right now with the border crossings. They have increased, so we have to take care of ourselves. We can't depend on the government."
Congress, he said, "can't agree on anything" and has not authorized it and continues to debates, along how to address the overall issue of immigration enforcement in this nation.
"I am not discouraged with ICE. They are so busy. I am not discouraged with the President. I am discouraged with Congress," Jones said.
"If they do nothing, the invasion of the borders continues. And these people that are complaining about these kids being separated from their parents, the reason they are bringing these kids in is in the past they were allowed in if they had kids.
"Now the law says they can't come across with kids and if they do they will be separated from their parents,"Jones continued. "I was told yesterday by both Attorney General Sessions and the director of Homeland Security they are bringing kids in but not their kids and they are using them to ask for asylum.
"When Attorney General Sessions was speaking, he did mention that when these illegals do these heinous crimes and are incarcerated for murder or rape, when they are released, people think they are automatically returned to their countries.
"Their countries won't accept them. They are released back into our communities."
The National Sheriffs' Association has issued a position paper supporting the expansion of the 287(g) program.
"It is critical that local law enforcement maintain and build upon the partnerships with federal law enforcement to ensure that collectively we can promote, protect, and preserve the public safety and homeland security."
The International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Major Cities Chiefs Association have both issued statements opposing police participation in immigration enforcement.
They contend it interferes with the "trust, communication, and cooperation" between police and the immigrant community that are necessary for police to maintain public order.
The Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force, made up of 63 sheriffs and police chiefs, has signed a letter asserting that they don't want their officers acting as immigration enforcement agents.
It also has also been opposed by the ACLU, American Immigration Council and Southern Center for Human Rights.