A pilot project to give some Florida police officers federal power to arrest illegal immigrants would merge the roles of local law enforcement and the INS, sparking fears that the new arrangement may erode immigrants' trust in police.

The proposed project, involving 35 Florida police officers who will focus on thwarting terror attacks, marks the first use of an obscure provision of a 1996 law that allows the INS to "deputize" local or state police to enforce immigration law.

Proponents argue that the INS needs help from local law enforcement to take on the new duties associated with terrorism prevention.

But local and national immigrant advocates say the plan could lead to harassment and discourage undocumented immigrants from reporting crimes.

South Carolina might consider a similar program. South Carolina's attorney general, Charlie Condon, has urged passage of a bill that would allow local police to enforce federal immigration laws, hoping the state can then open talks with the INS on a formal agreement.

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