A committee the Dane County Board created a year ago to recommend ways to improve relations between local law enforcement and the immigrant community remains divided over a key recommendation.

Several members of the Immigration Task Force want the Dane County Sheriff’s Office either to abandon or modify a longstanding policy of reporting illegal immigrants in the county jail to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Though the policy has been in place for decades, stepped up federal enforcement in the last three years has resulted in the policy leading to more people being deported.

“People who used to approach police to report a crime or to cooperate with investigations are not approaching police,” said Jon Hawkins, a Madison middle school teacher and committee member, summarizing testimony from listening sessions the committee conducted earlier this year.

But Sheriff Dave Mahoney, also a committee member, said he remains opposed to changing the policy because it allows jail staff to determine whether inmates have violent criminal backgrounds in other countries.

Though Mahoney said he’s open to having a continued discussion about the policy, it would take a much broader outcry from the public to require a change.

“I have not heard a large outcry,” Mahoney said. “I’ve heard from a small segment of the population that has consistently delivered that message that the policy needs to change.”

The public will get another chance to voice its concerns on May 13. The committee is seeking input on recommendations that were presented in draft form for the first time Monday.

In addition to calling for changes in the Sheriff’s Office jail policy, the draft recommendations ask local law enforcement agencies to develop written policies for patrol units who encounter illegal immigrants modeled on Madison’s policy and to educate the immigrant community that non-criminal contact with police will not result in deportation.

“I don’t think the success of our work hinges on that one item,” said Luis Yudice said. “Part of what we’re trying to do is create awareness.”

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