Supporters of Using Local Officals to Enforce Federal Immigration Law List Successes
April 21, 2010 By Alison Bowen
In the wake of a report criticizing 287(g) and similar programs that deputize local officials to enforce federal immigration law, we wondered what supporters of these programs consider their biggest successes.
So, we asked around to find out who’s been detained and deported in these programs. We contacted Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which trains the officers, and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and the Center for Immigration Studies, both groups that support 287(g).
Below is a round up of “worst of the worst” criminal immigrants netted under the program.
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, said 287(g) allows police to hold criminals that might otherwise make bond, especially gang members whose friends could easily come up with the cash.
The program might not always snare “ax-murderers or major gangsters,” she said, but it cuts people out of the system who are in and out of jail.
“Removing them to their home country cuts down on the average daily inmate population and saves the community money and victims,” she said.
She provided a few examples:
After arresting someone on aggravated assault charges, Houston police checked the suspect’s immigration history and found two murder warrants posted by Interpol. Also in Houston, 287(g)-authorized officers used an immigration database to find a photo for a suspect in Mexico’s Zeta gang.
Vaughan said 287(g) also lets police hold people they might otherwise be required to release. In Florida, after an 8-month-old child was murdered, police held a suspect on immigration violations until the investigation was complete, then adding murder charges.
In the same county, suspects arrested under 287(g) had the following history: child molestation; robbery, burglary, drugs and firearms charges; and another was a member of Central American gang MS-13.
And in Georgia, Gwinnett County, where officers have authority to check inmate’s status in the jails, they reported 13 murderers and 15 rapists among the people they’ve identified in the program.
Vaughan also pointed to the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office in Tennessee, which reported that 40 percent of immigrants processed for removal had been arrested previously, including one who had been arrested and released 26 times before. Among people booked: Volkan Cengiz, arrested for burglary, substance possession and assault and David Medina-Valasquez, bringing a criminal record of crimes against children in California.
Ira Mehlman, media director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said his organization considers any detained undocumented immigrant a success.
“Simply being in the country illegally is grounds for deportation,” he said. “If they catch you, that’s grounds enough.”
He emphasized that FAIR doesn’t suggest the country can deport everyone. But instead, he said, “We need to enforce our immigration laws at the federal and local level in a way that makes it clear that coming to or remaining in the U.S. illegally will not be rewarded.”
Instead of the worst criminals, he provided a list of times when immigrants were not detained and then committed violent crimes:
In 2008, police arrested Pedro Espinoza, a 19-year-old who had been released from jail in an assault case, in the killing of Jamiel Shaw Jr., a 17-year-old high school athlete. Espinoza had been released from jail the day before the killing.
Mehlman faulted the Los Angeles police, who “would not check this guy’s immigration status,” he said.
He pointed to another case in San Francisco the same year. Edwin Ramos was booked (http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/local&id=6232369 ) on three murder counts for allegedly opening fire on a man and his two sons after a traffic dispute.
Mehlman said removing dangerous criminals should be a priority. “But that should not mean that ICE ignores illegal aliens who are not dangerous criminals,” he said. “All police departments work this way. The NYPD, for example, continues to enforce laws against minor infractions even while dangerous criminals walk the streets of New York.”
On their Web site, ICE keeps a page for Success Stories. In the national news section, ICE reported that the Harris County Jail in Texas refers 1,000 illegal immigrants each month, along with news of marijuana smugglers in Oklahoma and a North Carolina man charged with crimes against a child turned over to ICE.
About Alison Bowen
Alison is a Missouri native and New York City freelance writer who has wanted to cover Latin America since studying Spanish in Central America. After moving to Brooklyn, her work has appeared in The New York Times, the Daily News, the Manhattan Times and Women’s eNews. She earned a master’s degree in journalism and Latin American and Caribbean studies at New York University. Her thesis focused on immigration policies after September 11, including counterterrorism measures, and their effects on the daily lives of immigrants in New York City.