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Friday, June 04, 2004

Police: Added immigration officials mean fewer released migrants

Police: Added immigration officials mean fewer released migrants

Fewer illegal immigrants are being allowed to go free because federal agents aren't available to handle them, police say.

Previously, police often had to let suspected illegal immigrants go because no federal immigration officials were available to answer calls, officials said.

"There were times when our phone calls weren't even getting answered," said Phoenix police Detective Tony Morales. But since 50 agents were added last fall in Phoenix, immigration enforcers have been more responsive, he said.

"We are very pleased with their response compared with two or three years ago," Morales said.

Other police officials agreed, despite the Tuesday release of 24 suspected illegal immigrants by Arizona Department of Public Safety officers and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

What had been common releases of illegal immigrants are rare now, police say.

"Now that ICE is instituted, they are much more responsive," said Sgt. Chuck Trapani, a spokesman for the Mesa Police Department, noting that police don't have the authority to enforce federal immigration laws. "It seems like ICE has come out every time we've (called) them."

Federal agents have responded to almost 200 calls for assistance from police since the federal government launched a collaborative anti-smuggling operation in October.

Kyle E. Barnette, acting special agent in charge of ICE's Phoenix office, said ICE responds to every request for help, but agents can't always respond as quickly as police would like.

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