January 26, 2008

Sheriff to let federal immigration agents set up office in jail

Sheriff to let federal immigration agents set up office in jail
Agents will look for undocumented immigrants

By Tony Plohetski
Saturday, January 26, 2008

Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton has agreed to let federal immigration agents set up an office in the county jail to more often monitor whether inmates booked into the downtown facility are legally in the United States.

Hamilton said this week that agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency will likely be stationed in the jail 24 hours a day, seven days a week in coming months. They began increasing their presence in the facility late last year.

Until recently, federal officials said agents only occasionally visited the jail to check the immigration status among inmates but sought more access from Hamilton.

The increased presence has led agents to double — if not triple — the number of "immigration holds" it has traditionally placed on Travis County inmates for possible deportation, said Adrian Ramirez, assistant field office director for the San Antonio office of the federal immigration agency, whose region includes Austin. Specific numbers were not available Friday. The inmates include anyone from undocumented immigrants accused of felony crimes to others who were arrested for Class C misdemeanor traffic violations, such as running a red light or not having a driver's licenses, officials said.

"I'm really shocked that Travis County is working with the immigration officials to help carry out immigration policies that need to be revised," said Rita Gonzales-Garza, a co-district director of the local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens. "I would expect that of other counties, but it is unfortunate that it is occurring here."

Critics say that the increased enforcement could divide families in instances where a parent has U.S.-born children and affect the willingness of undocumented immigrants to work with local law enforcement officials to report and help solve crimes.

Hamilton, who met Thursday with concerned community groups, said he is only increasing the efficiency of federal immigration agents who have visited the jail looking for undocumented immigrants for at least two decades. He said his decision also is based on a belief that joint efforts between local and federal law enforcement agencies increase public safety.

"My contention is that the best way for (undocumented immigrants) to not come under scrutiny is to not commit crimes," Hamilton said.

Ramirez said agents since the 1980s have visited county jails across the nation to review forms that inmates fill out when they are booked into jail that ask their place of birth. They may request an interview with the inmates to determine whether they are legally in the United States.

Agents may place an immigration detainer on the inmates if they suspect they are undocumented immigrants.

Officials said such inmates generally remain in local jails until charges against them are resolved. From there they are moved to federal detention facilities, where their immigration cases are heard before a judge, who can order them to be deported. Ramirez said his region received federal money for more agents last June and that officials decided in October to focus their efforts in jails in Travis and Bexar counties, where they thought the number of undocumented immigrants was higher.

Ramirez said agents also are more frequently visiting jails throughout his 20-county region.

In Travis County, Ramirez said agents are trying to determine the immigration status of the 2,432 people already in jail. He said they plan to check the immigration status of new inmates when they are booked into jail.

Having an office in the Travis County Jail "is very important," he said. "In order for an officer to file a detainer, they have to interview that person. If we are there 24 hours a day, we can determine if the subject is removable. It is a lot easier."

In a four-page letter to Hamilton, attorney David Peek, whose clients include immigrants, said he is concerned about the number of inmates who will be forced to remain in jail and the cost to the county.

He said he also is worried that members of Austin's immigrant community will be afraid that interacting with local law enforcement officers could result in possible deportation.

Austin police have had a years-long practice of not questioning suspects or victims about their immigration status.

"This will have a wide-sweeping affect on the local economy, the community, untold businesses and the reputation which makes Austin great," the letter said.


January 22, 2008

Farmers Branch passes new ban on renting to illegals

Jan. 22, 2008

By PATRICK McGEEpmcgee@star-telegram.com

Farmers Branch dug in deeper in its fight against illegal immigration Tuesday night with a unanimous City Council vote for a new ordinance -- the third in 14 months -- to ban illegal immigrants from renting apartments in the city.

The new ordinance would also make renting a house off limits to illegal immigrants. The measure is part of the city's ongoing attempt to survive challenges in court that has kept the ban from being implemented.

The current ban never went into effect; it was halted by a temporary restraining order from U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay, who found possible Constitutional problems with it.

The new ordinance is an attempt to meet those concerns and fulfill the wishes of Farmers Branch voters, who endorsed a rental ban by a 2-to-1 margin in a May referendum.

"A big advantage of this ordinance is that the federal government will be the one that determines immigration status," Dallas attorney Michael Jung told the council. Jung was hired by the city to grapple with Lindsay's restraining order, and he is the main author of the ordinance.

The new ordinance requires all people over age 18 who want to rent an apartment or house in the city to get a $5 rental occupancy license from City Hall.

The Building Inspector will turn in the paper work to federal authorities to see if immigrants who applied are here legally.

"Deficiency notices" will be sent to people whose information does not check out with the federal government. The occupant then has 60 days to correct the discrepancy or move out.

Landlords can be fined up to $500 a day and may have their rental licenses suspended if they do not evict the occupant believed to be an illegal immigrant.

The new ordinance's language says it will go into effect 15 days after Lindsay gives his final ruling on the ordinance he halted with a temporary restraining order.

Patrick McGee, 817-685-3806

January 20, 2008

Criminal Alien Program still taking illegals arrested for minor offenses

Criminal Alien Program still taking illegals arrested for minor offenses

02:36 PM CST on Sunday, January 20, 2008
By BRANDON FORMBY / The Dallas Morning News

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is still accepting illegal immigrants arrested on Class C misdemeanors, despite issuing a memo less than two months ago saying it would no longer take many of those referrals.

ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok said the memo was prompted by a deluge of referral requests from local law enforcement. The agency said at the time that it wanted to focus on illegal immigrants accused of more serious crimes.

Mr. Rusnok said the Dallas office has continued to accept suspects with Class C misdemeanor charges as long as its resources permit.

Such charges include speeding, assault, public intoxication and hot checks. The penalty is a fine of no more than $500.

"The bottom line is [that] like all law-enforcement organizations, we're going to prioritize our resources," Mr. Rusnok said. "It just makes sense."

Irving kicked off a national media firestorm last fall for the high number of suspects it referred through the Criminal Alien Program. Most of the 2,172 people the city has turned over to ICE since September 2006 faced Class C misdemeanors only. The city's referral effort has changed little since the November memo.

In October, Irving police referred 146 suspects to ICE. In November, that number fell to 140. It was 165 in December. Between Jan. 1 and Wednesday, more than 80 arrestees went to ICE.

Officials in the Dallas County suburb have spent months dispelling rumors that its CAP program involved racial profiling and weathering protests by thousands who say police essentially turn over for deportation people who commit nothing more than routine traffic infractions.

But police officials said the department hasn't changed its procedures, which include arresting people who can't identify themselves even if they face minor charges.

CAP allows local law-enforcement agencies to refer to ICE anyone who is arrested and cannot prove citizenship. If ICE determines that the person is in the country illegally, it imposes a deportation hold.

Sheriff's departments in Dallas, Denton and Collin counties and the Farmers Branch, Garland and Grand Prairie police departments are among the North Texas law-enforcement agencies that use CAP.

Farmers Branch police Cpl. Chad Taylor said his department hasn't seen any change with ICE since the memo was sent.

"They're still taking our Class C offenses," he said. 'We're still business as usual."

Grand Prairie police Detective John Brimmer said there was a brief period when ICE wouldn't take his department's Class C referrals, but that has since changed. On Friday, for example, ICE took into custody two people at the Grand Prairie jail facing Class C charges.

Last week, Irving police Capt. John Rodriguez addressed Hispanic residents during a town hall meeting conducted in Spanish. Although the meeting was aimed at informing residents about several city plans and initiatives, many questions from the audience centered around CAP.

Capt. Rodriguez said that as long people can present proper, state-issued identification when stopped while driving and don't commit crimes, they have little to worry about.

"They shouldn't be afraid," he said. "The program is geared to persons breaking the law. Our biggest concern is identifying the individual."

In September, Mexican Consul Enrique Hubbard Urrea warned immigrants to avoid Irving because hundreds were being turned over to ICE monthly. Many faced misdemeanor charges.

That same month, the number of people Irving turned over under CAP peaked at 269. That number has since dropped, and Mr. Urrea's office said there have been far fewer complaints. Police, Hispanic activists, Irving residents and Mr. Urrea attribute the declines to two things – a change in behavior by some illegal immigrants and an exodus from the city by others.

"That is the main factor – that people began to use caution," Mr. Urrea said last week. "In some cases, people may have left the city or avoided the city. There are reports that the number of children in schools has dropped."

The Irving school district has lost more than 770 students since September, more than double the number lost during a similar period last year. Some believe that the city's participation in CAP is partly to blame. About two-thirds of the district's students are Latino.

Some residents say fear still pervades the Hispanic community. At Tuesday's town hall meeting, roofer Marco Ríos asked why police were getting involved in an issue many see as a federal responsibility.

"My workers won't even show up to collect a paycheck," the 41-year-old said.

Others say that while some fears linger, the initial wave of panic has ebbed.

"It's getting better," said Carlos Quintanilla, who garnered media attention for organizing rallies against CAP and for his own arrest on outstanding warrants in Irving last year. "We would hope to see it go down even more to 30 or 40 or even zero people a month, but that's wishful thinking. I think it would be reduced if our community would take the initiative to act responsibly, too."

Mr. Quintanilla said some small Hispanic businesses in Irving have lost revenue because many Hispanics now avoid public places and prefer to stay at home. Educating people about U.S. laws and police procedures has also helped to ease some fears, he said.

"Our community has to accept some form of responsibility, and that's a change for us, when before we were saying our community is innocent of everything," he said.

Staff writers Jon Nielsen and Frank Trejo and Al Día reporter Alejandro Martínez contributed to this report.

TOP OFFENSES Since Sept. 1, 2006, Irving police have used the Criminal Alien Program to refer arrestees whose citizenship cannot be verified to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for possible deportation. Here are the 15 most common charges against Irving jail detainees believed to be illegal immigrants from the program's start in Irving through Wednesday.

Charge* Total
Local misdemeanor warrants 1,232
Outside misdemeanor warrants 896
No driver's license 515
Public intoxication 499
Other misdemeanors 410
Driving while intoxicated offenses 352
Driving with invalid license 131
Possession of drug(s) 105
Misdemeanor assault 101
Driving without insurance 99
Outside felony warrants 97
Failure to identify self as fugitive 86
Misdemeanor theft 76
Felony theft 44
Failure to display driver's license 36
Total charges** 5,013
Total people turned
over to ICE
* These are initial charges at the time of arrest and may be dropped or changed after review. Some individuals face multiple charges.
** "Total charges" include the 15 categories listed here as well as others.
SOURCE: Irving Police Department


January 16, 2008

Gang members accused of using young girls for prostitution

Gang members accused of using young girls for prostitution
By Angela K. Brown
Associated Press Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Several teenage gang members have been arrested on suspicion of forcing girls as young as 12 into a prostitution ring, police said Tuesday.

After befriending the girls and getting them high, Varrio Central gang members took them to some regular customers and then sought other men by trolling apartment complexes, offering the girls’ services for $50, Fort Worth police Lt. Ken Dean said.

The gang apparently targeted runaways and other girls with unstable homes, and if the girls refused to have sex for money the members beat and sexually assaulted them and threatened their families, Dean said.

“The age of the victims and suspects is the surprising part of it,” Dean said. “To have such young individuals in a somewhat organized business, a forced prostitution ring, is somewhat alarming and such a horrendous crime against the 12to 16-year-old girls.”

Detectives found five victims, ages 12 to 16, but believe there may be more. Those girls are back with relatives or in other safe places, he said, declining to elaborate.

A 15-year-old girl who may be a gang member helped the group by going to the victims’ houses to pick them up under the pretense of going shopping or to a movie, which fooled the parents, said Lt. Dan Draper.

Four alleged gang members were arrested Jan. 3 after they took a 14-year-old to a convenience store to have sex with the owner, a regular customer of the prostitution ring, police said.

Diego Rodriguez, 19, and Martin Reyes, 17, were charged with counts including engaging in organized criminal activity, aggravated kidnapping and trafficking of a person. Rodriguez, held on $170,000 bond, did not have an attorney, and a lawyer for Reyes, held on $150,000 bond, could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday.

The cases of two boys, ages 15 and 16, and the 15-year-old girl accused of helping the gang are being handled in the juvenile system. Police expect more arrests as the investigation continues, Dean said.

The convenience store owner, Chang Hyeong Lee, 56, was charged with aggravated kidnapping, engaging in organized criminal activity and prostitution. He remained jailed Tuesday with bail set at $300,000. His attorney could not immediately be reached.

Police discovered the prostitution ring after a woman was caught in August in a neighborhood allegedly offering men sex for $50 with a 14-year-old girl. Police have declined to reveal the relationship between Debra Flores Castillo, 33, who was charged with compelling prostitution, and the teen gang members.

She was released on a $20,000 bond. Her attorney, Mark Scott, declined to comment.

Jorge Martinez[illegal alien], accused of paying for sex with the teen in August, remained jailed on $10,000 bond Tuesday on a sexual assault of a child charge. His attorney did not immediately return a call.


January 15, 2008

Police accuse 5 of running underage prostitution ring

January 15, 2008

Original A liberal dose article: Police accuse 5 of running underage prostitution ring

FORT WORTH -- Police say they have broken up an underage prostitution ring in which Fort Worth gang members threatened and assaulted young girls until they agreed to have sex for money.

What makes the case even more disturbing, authorities say, is that some of the suspects are underage themselves.

Officers have arrested three juveniles -- including a 15-year-old girl Monday -- and a 17- and 19-year-old, who are legally adults, on suspicion of human trafficking and prostitution, police said.

Four victims ages 12 to 16 have been identified, they said.

'It's a unique situation; they are not your stereotypical pimps,' said Detective H. Murtaugh of the major case unit.

'This is human trafficking, and it's very sophisticated for such a young group.'

Four of the five suspects were arrested Jan. 3 after a tip led police to a southeast Fort Worth convenience store, where the suspects were found with a 14-year-old girl, police said. The suspects had brought the girl to the store to have sex with the owner, Chang Hyeong Lee, 56, who was a regular customer of the ring, investigators said.

Martin Reyes, 17, and Diego Armando Rodriguez, 19, and two boys ages 15 and 16 were arrested, police said. Lee was also arrested, according to a police report.

Most of the girls were runaways whom the suspects befriended by feigning affection for them, Murtaugh said. However, if the girls later refused to have sex for money, the relationship turned violent.

'They used various brutal tactics, including sexually assaulting the girls themselves,' major-case Sgt. J.D. Moore said. 'They also made threats against the girls and their families until they got what they wanted.'

The victims are now in 'safe places,' Murtaugh said. She declined to elaborate.

How the case unfolded

The investigation started in August in an east Fort Worth apartment complex, police said.

That's where police arrested Debra Flores Castillo, 32, after residents reported that she was going door to door offering sex with a 14-year-old runaway for $50.

Castillo was arrested and accused of compelling prostitution. A man [illegal alien Jorge Martinez, 32-40] who lived at the complex and took Castillo up on the offer was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault of a child.

The case led police to a larger investigation involving members of a south Fort Worth gang, Murtaugh said. The department's major-case, vice and human-trafficking units, as well as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, were involved.

The gang operated in south and southeast Fort Worth and generally took the girls to customers, Murtaugh said. Members often tried to find customers in apartment complexes with large numbers of undocumented immigrants.

In addition to the trafficking and prostitution charges, Rodriguez was in jail Monday on an immigration hold, said a jailer at the Mansfield Jail.

All of the young victims are from the Fort Worth area, Murtaugh said.

Gang members occasionally flashed a gun or knife in front of the girls but did not appear to have a store of weapons, Murtaugh said.

And although the management of the prostitution ring was sophisticated for such young suspects, they were not smart businessmen, she said.

'They didn't put the profit back into the business,' she said. 'They mostly bought drugs and beer.'

The investigation is ongoing, she said.

How it ended

On Jan. 3, police got the tip that led them to the convenience store, 1200 Glen Garden Drive. The suspects had arranged a rendezvous with the owner shortly after the store closed at 10 p.m., police said.

Officers arrived after the girl had been assaulted, Murtaugh said.

The store was known in the neighborhood as the 'minimart,' she said.

Reyes was in the Mansfield Jail on Monday evening with bail set at $350,000.

Rodriguez's bail was set at $170,000.

Both suspects face charges of human trafficking, promotion of prostitution, compelling prostitution and aggravated kidnapping.

Lee was in the Tarrant County Jail with bail set at $325,000. He faces charges of engaging in prostitution and aggravated kidnapping.

Of the three juvenile suspects, one who was arrested at the store has been released from custody but must wear a monitoring device, Murtaugh said.

'He's not one of the major players,' Murtaugh said. 'He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.'

As for the girls' families, she said, 'they're doing as well as one could expect, considering the family has learned what the girls have been involved with.'

Copyright © 2008 A liberal dose, All Rights Reserved.

Gang members accused of using young girls for prostitution

3 suspects in prostitution inquiry will be tried as juveniles

Gang members accused of using young girls for prostitution

Regional Roundup Fort Worth

Texas lawmakers voting more than once

Texas lawmakers voting more than once

Last Update: 1/15 10:46 am

CBS 42 cameras caught Texas lawmakers voting more than once on bills during the 2007 Legislative Session. In May, CBS 42 Investigative reporter Nanci Wilson caught Texas lawmakers voting more than once on bills.

It caused outrage across the Internet and with a Travis County man who says he is so outraged that he is asking the Travis County District Attorney to file criminal charges against some Texas lawmakers.

Click to watch the story.

Should the Texas State Legislature pass immigration enforcement laws in 2009?