ORANGE COUNTY VOICES : IMMIGRATION : Courts, INS Could Knock Out Important Players in Drug Trade

Our national war against drugs deserves clear-cut, effective action.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service and the drug czar have not focused on deporting illegal-immigrant felons out of the state courts and the country after they have served their sentences. The INS continues to maintain an unworkable policy, concentrating on the deportation of immigrant dayworkers.

Meanwhile, the drug czar continues to neglect the great number of illegal immigrants who sell narcotics.

Together, the INS and drug czar can present a formidable front to the greatest enemy of society--the drug dealers.

At present, however, state court resources are being drained, taxpayer dollars are being wasted on illegal-immigrant felons, and a major enemy in the war against drugs is escaping.

How significant is the problem? In recent testimony before Congress, the General Accounting Office estimated that 120,000 out of the approximately 600,000 federal and state prisoners in the United States are subject to deportation.

Illegal immigrants make up approximately 40% of my calendar of criminal cases, and most of them for drug felonies.

Thousands of illegal-immigrant felons are placed on probation in Orange County. Some of our probation officers carry as many as 120 cases and report supervising up to 70% illegal-immigrant felons. The ancillary court agencies (clerks, district attorney's offices, public defenders) are being drained by the illegal-immigrant probationer. If the illegal-immigrant felon is sentenced to state prison, the parole department resources are also drained.

As a result, illegal-immigrant felons flood our courts, jails, probation and parole departments, depleting resources and paralyzing the state criminal justice system.

As an Orange County Superior Court judge, I was prompted to react to this crisis by a well-publicized story in November of 1988, describing an INS raid on a local church. In that episode, INS agents went in after immigrant dayworkers who claimed sanctuary in the church. It became clear to me that the INS was directing its limited personnel and resources into the wrong area.

Given the choice of whom to deport, why not deport those who had committed serious felonies?

I responded by developing a program in my Superior Court to coordinate with INS and facilitate the identification and deportation of illegal-immigrant felons. To ensure fairness and protect against discrimination, I required the INS to interview every defendant who appears in my court, regardless of racial or ethnic origin. INS may not use "profiles" to single out a particular ethnic or racial group. That is a practice that I believe is discriminatory.

The success of this experimental program has been phenomenal. My policy has resulted in the deportation of 685 illegal-immigrant felons to 17 different countries in the first nine months of this year from my state court alone.

In response to these results, I was invited to Washington, D.C., earlier this month to testify before the House Immigration Subcommittee about the viability of my program to redirect INS policy and support the war against drugs. I was gratified by the overwhelming favorable response and bipartisan support the program received from members of Congress. I had a private meeting with drug czar William Bennett to discuss how applicable my program could be to his drug war.

I am afraid, however, that Bennett still fails to understand the significance of the illegal-immigrant drug felon.

The federal drug war is focused exclusively on the capture and prosecution of (major) drug dealers. While I applaud our attack upon the large distributors of narcotics, we must remember that the vast majority of drug dealers in the United States sell many times a day, but in small quantities of gram and ounce amounts. I estimate that nine out of every 10 people who are arrested for narcotics violations are these seemingly small dealers that the federal agencies and drug czar will never see. But they are the same offenders who sell to our children and others in the schoolyards, playgrounds, and street corners in our neighborhoods.

These are the dealers, many of whom are illegal immigrants, most often seen by the public. It's no wonder that the public grows increasingly skeptical of the ability of elected officials, judges and police to stop the overwhelming tide of drugs.

The national drug plan does not address the mass of illegal immigrant narcotics offenders. The result is that the vast majority of illegal-immigrant drug dealers are not deported by INS. They should be. And there should be assurances that those that are formally deported, are prosecuted by federal officials if they ever return.

Federal prosecution for the simple act of re-entering the United States, even for a small street dealer, will send an instant and chilling message to deter them from trying to slip back across the border to sell their drugs.

As a Marine in Vietnam, I learned that occupying the cities but not controlling the countryside lost a war. In our current drug war, the prosecution of large traffickers without the diligent deportation of thousands and thousands of small narcotics dealers will lose this war.

My program of deportation has minimal costs, rids the nation of dangerous felons, fights the drug war, and redirects INS policy and its limited resources in a workable and humanitarian way. It represents the first effort at cooperation between a state court and INS. And it can be duplicated immediately, starting with the border states of California, Arizona, Texas and Florida, who disproportionately bear the national burden of the illegal-immigrant felon without much federal assistance.

The illegal-immigrant felon is draining the precious resources of our state judicial system. If this program of deporting them is expanded and implemented nationwide, we could redirect our efforts, and the millions of dollars presently spent on illegal-immigrant felons, into the juvenile courts for the benefit of youngsters.

It is better to invest our limited tax dollars in the youth of America rather than promote the senseless paralysis of our justice system by illegal-immigrant felons.

Americans have the will to fight the drug war. Solutions are available, and most often they emerge from outside the beltway of Washington, D.C. All we need now is to have the drug czar and the INS listen to us.

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