Costa Mesa Mayor Allan Mansoor proposed in 2005 that city police officers be trained to check the immigration status of people they arrest, which unleashed torrents of protest as well as support. That plan never progressed, but federal officials finally approached the city in late 2006 about placing an agent in the jail.
"My thought process is, if there are criminal aliens being booked into a jail in a particular city, then we want to work there," said Jim Hayes, Los Angeles field office director for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Hayes said the Costa Mesa program has been a success, and he thinks residents would agree.
"Certainly I think if you talk to the people in Costa Mesa, what they were looking for was a solution to what they perceived and what now we would say — and I think rightly so — was a crisis," he said. "I think this works better for them than any other program would."
Mansoor and his supporters pitched the plan to use city police for immigration enforcement as targeting violent felons who are in the country illegally.
The current program screens everyone arrested by Costa Mesa police. A few of those suspected of immigration violations since December have been picked up by police for minor infractions such as jaywalking, or one widely publicized case of a man riding his bike on the wrong side of the street.
The program also has identified at last three people suspected of strong-arm robbery, one alleged child molester and someone accused of assault.
"By and large, there have been large numbers of felony and misdemeanor arrests where the people are here illegally and they've been flagged for deportation," Mansoor said. "If someone is here illegally I don't think it's right for us to just look the other way either."
Councilman Eric Bever said the wrong-way bicyclist was "one anomaly," and overall, "I think at this point what we're doing has been very effective."