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


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