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Prosecutions of illegal immigrants, deportations on rise


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  • Prosecutions of illegal immigrants, deportations on rise

    Fueled by a broad crackdown by immigration officials, federal prosecutions of illegal immigrants with felony records in Southern California are on pace this year to hit a level not seen in nearly a decade.
    So far this fiscal year, there have been 657 federal prosecutions - up more than 20 percent from the previous year, according to figures from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles.

    And with three months still left to count - and about 50 cases filed per month - this fiscal year's totals are expected to surpass the 792 cases filed in 2003-04 and mark a nearly 400 percent increase over the 135 cases filed in 2000-01.

    The prosecutions come as the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the Los Angeles Police Department have stepped up efforts to focus on criminal illegal immigrants. Federal agents also are cracking down on those who ignore deportation orders or commit crimes.

    "These defendants pose a demonstrated threat here in the United States," said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the local U.S. Attorney's Office, which oversees seven counties in Southern California.

    "They have no place on our streets and even when deported to their home countries, they have shown a willingness to return to the United States."

    This year, federal prosecutors in the region have filed cases against more immigrants with criminal records for entering the country illegally than any other crime. The cases often result in sentences of two to three years in a federal prison, then deportation.
    The Los Angeles City Attorney's Office this year loaned several lawyers to the U.S. Attorney's Office to target immigrant gang members and help with prosecutions.

    Police pitch in

    The rise in prosecutions is just a piece of a broader and more unified increase in immigration enforcement. Local police have become a key filter for beefed-up federal immigration efforts in Southern California, particularly in Los Angeles County, where an estimated one in three residents is an immigrant.

    The LAPD now regularly works with agents in the San Fernando Valley to identify gang members with immigration violations. And starting this month, the Sheriff's Department is poised to add six more jailers to check inmates' immigration statuses.

    Already, deputies are identifying nearly 100 illegal immigrants a week convicted of crimes from trespassing to armed robbery. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in the jail also are marking others for deportation.

    Meanwhile, ICE plans to expand teams in Southern California to carry out door-to-door sweeps of immigrants who have ignored deportation orders or have criminal records. The national effort has lowered the number of immigrants who received deportation orders but remain here, immigration officials said.

    Although records show deportation rates in the region are on par with the previous year, immigration officials say the abrupt shutdown of the ICE detention and removal processing center in Terminal Island in October could have lowered that figure.

    "L.A. County has identified probably one of the largest number of foreign-born nationals who are placed into removal proceedings in the country," said Kelly Nantel, an ICE spokeswoman.

    "We believe our enforcement efforts are having the desired effect. ... We are catching criminal aliens and placing them into removal proceedings and removing them," she said, noting a recently issued report by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies, a nonprofit think tank that favors reduced immigration.

    The report found that the number of illegal immigrants declined 11 percent between August 2007 and May, based on U.S. Census data. The authors argue in the July report that immigrants are returning home because they fear the increased enforcement.

    According to the most recent figures, ICE deportations nationally have increased since 2005, when about 205,000 illegal immigrants were deported. Last year, about 285,000 were deported, and this year is on pace for a similar number, with 265,000 so far and two months to go.

    In the U.S. Attorney's Office's Southern California region, 17,582 illegal immigrants have been deported this year, according to ICE. Last year, there were almost 21,000.

    The ICE numbers include July, but those from the U.S. Attorney's Office do not.

    Fear spreading?

    But immigrant-rights advocates say the increased enforcement has sent ripples of fear through immigrant communities - with children scared to attend school, worried their parents will be deported, and some now more reluctant to report crimes. And they say it has swept many law-abiding immigrants into the system.

    ICE's own records show that in the last fiscal year ending in September 2007, Southern California-based ICE agents arrested 30,407 illegal immigrants. Although agents targeted criminals and those who ignored deportation orders, nearly a third of those arrested had no criminal or immigration record.

    "When you say the word `criminal,' people think about the word `violence,' but a lot of time these are crimes of poverty," said Xiomara Corpeno, an organizer for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles.

    "We are seeing people with no criminal record getting funneled into the system for very basic traffic violations."

    But police and deputies say the effort has cleaned up the streets and freed up beds in the region's already overcrowded jails.

    "It's helping us take criminals off the street and keep them off," said Los Angeles police Deputy Chief Michel Moore, who oversees operations in the San Fernando Valley.

    "If you act lawfully and obey the laws, you have little to fear."

    ICE system faulted

    Under an agreement with ICE that began in 2006, eight Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies have been trained and given authority to place immigration holds on inmates.

    Under the program, more than 20,600 immigrants have been interviewed and 11,300 kept on immigration holds. There are 67 similar programs across the country.

    But the program has come under fire, first for deporting a developmentally disabled U.S. citizen from Lancaster to Mexico, then for failing to identify Pedro Espinoza, 19, an illegal- immigrant gang member accused of killing Los Angeles High School football player Jamiel Shaw Jr., 17, in March before releasing him from jail on a weapons violation.

    During a stint at the jail last week, two deputies using a converted cell as an office interviewed more than half a dozen inmates in two hours to determine their immigration status.

    A 39-year-old immigrant from Nogales, Mexico, convicted of possession of a controlled substance, admitted he had illegally crossed the border. A sheriff's deputy tagged him for an immigration hold.

    Another tagged for immigration violations was a 43-year-old man arrested on a three-year-old warrant for possessing drugs. Born in Chihuahua, Mexico, the man entered the United States at age 3 and held a green card, but never bothered to get his citizenship.

    But because he had previously been convicted for drunk driving and false impersonation, he was likely headed back to Mexico, where he said he knew nobody.

    "I can't believe this is happening to me," he said. "I have a wife and kids."
    moral of the story, if your an illegal immigrant and commit a crime, your screwed about time we do something!
    This is my Glock, there are many like it, but this one is mine

    "Anything is possible to he who dares" A.G. Spalding

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