Monday, December 23, 2002
County Unveils Program to Identify Illegal Aliens Who Commit Crimes
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
A county program to quickly identify criminal suspects who are in the United States illegally was unveiled Friday by law enforcement officials.
Sheriff Lee Baca said the High Intensity Criminal Alien Apprehension and Prosecution program will help officers determine whether suspects they arrest have illegally re-entered the country after having been deported.
Electronic fingerprint scans and a computer tracking system will flag criminal aliens and allow the Immigration and Naturalization Service to put an immediate hold on suspects and make sure they are transferred to federal custody after serving any time for state violations.
Under current law, a person convicted of re-entering the United States after having been deported can be sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. But Baca said aliens until now often were released after serving their state sentences or even after they were booked, since state and local officials had no quick way of determining whether they were in violation of immigration laws.
The program was funded by a $2.3 million U.S. Justice Department grant and results from a 10-year effort spearheaded by Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich.
“I’m elated,” Antonovich said. “Had it been done sooner, Deputy March would have been celebrating Christmas with his family this year.”
The supervisor was referring to Sheriff’s Deputy David March, who was gunned down in April by a man prosecutors said was here illegally.
Antonovich has said illegal aliens committing crimes here account for 25 percent of the county jail population. He said the prosecution, defense and incarceration of deportable aliens cost the county $150 million in 2001, including court costs.
But in hailing the “HI-CAPP” program, officials highlighted a host of frustrations that continue to plague local governments in combating crime committed by people who crossed the border illegally.
Janice Maurizi of the District Attorney’s Office complained that March’s suspected killer, Armando Garcia, is free in Mexico along with others like him because that country’s supreme court will not allow extradition here for any charge that could result in life in prison. That ruling, announced in October, is in addition to the previous ban on turning over a suspect who could be executed, and is a result of what the court said was Mexico’s goal of rehabilitation for criminals.
“Mexico is imposing its standards on the United States by requiring a waiver of not only the death penalty but for life in prison,” Maurizi said.
Baca said he intended to travel to Mexico to discuss the issue.
“This is a Supreme Court-of-Mexico-created problem,” Baca said.
But the sheriff also underscored the costs the state and local governments must bear because of federal failures to police the nation’s borders.
“This is a battle between the state and federal governments,” Baca said.
U.S. Attorney Debra Yang also was on hand at the morning news conference at Men’s Central Jail, and said her Central District of California office stood ready to prosecute anyone identified by the HI-CAPP.
But Yang said the Justice Department grant included no funding for new attorneys to prosecute immigration violators.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company