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Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Pasadena Star-News - Immigration screening sought

Pasadena Star-News - News
Immigration screening sought

Baca wants sheriff's deputies to do job

By Troy Anderson , Staff Writer

Sheriff Lee Baca wants sheriff's personnel, rather than federal immigration authorities, to determine if jail inmates are convicted criminal aliens who could be recommended for deportation upon their release.
Currently, the federal Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement has only three officers assigned to county jails to determine if a foreign-born inmate is a convicted or previously deported criminal alien.

"The plus for us is we look at this as a force multiplier,' Kevin Jeffery, an ICE deputy special agent-in-charge, said Tuesday. "The Sheriff's Department is looking at training six individuals. Once these six people have successfully completed their courses, we will have increased our staff by 200 percent.'

Sheriff's officials estimate about one-quarter of the 170,000 inmates who cycle through the jail system each year are illegal immigrants. If all those inmates were properly screened, officials estimate they could recommend deporting up to 40,000 of them.

"Our best estimate is we are only touching 10 to 12 percent of that population,' Jeffery said.

Recent studies have shown criminal aliens place a large burden on the local criminal justice system.

"Criminal illegal aliens are currently costing county taxpayers more than $150 million a year and make up more than 25 percent of our jail population,' said Tony Bell, spokesman for Supervisor Michael Antonovich.

But some immigrant advocacy groups oppose Baca's proposal, saying the county jails are already understaffed and overcrowded and that requiring sheriff's personnel to spend time doing federal agents' jobs will only increase the county workload.

"It also sets a bad precedent,' said Greg Simons, the immigrant and citizenship project director for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. "It allows local law enforcement officers to enforce federal laws, which could open up a Pandora's box for other sorts of federal (agreements).'

Sheriff's Correctional Services Division Chief Charles Jackson said the proposed agreement won't cost the department any extra money and will use existing personnel.

"Currently, they ask about 40 questions,' Jackson said. "Once trained by ICE, maybe they will ask 50 questions.'

The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on the proposed agreement this coming Tuesday.

Troy Anderson can be reached at (213) 974-8985 or by e-mail at troy.anderson@dailynews.com .

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