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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Too Sensitive and Serious for Shortcuts

Should Mexican juvenile offenders in Orange County be sent back to Mexico to serve their sentences? County probation officials think that they should be and are recommending that the Board of Supervisors authorize money for such a program for the rest of the fiscal year.

Almost everyone who deals with juvenile offenders agrees that family support can help break the cycle of crime, and the district attorney in charge of juveniles and gangs has argued that reuniting juvenile offenders with their families in Mexico would be a good idea. But while this program is being framed as something that will help youngsters, it is also a solution to the county’s problem of overcrowding at Juvenile Hall. The county estimates that it could free up 30 beds during the remainder of the fiscal year by shipping youngsters guilty of minor offenses back to Mexico.

It’s a tempting argument, but there are a lot of questions to be answered. Immigration rights advocates worry that routing juvenile offenders to Mexican officials would bypass the Immigration and Naturalization Service, effectively deporting them without due process.

Also, it is unclear what would happen when the youngsters got to Mexico. The Mexican government has its own laws, and there seems little guarantee that it would have either the resources or the inclination to see that sentences were carried out.

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And the supposed benefit of returning youngsters to their families may be no bargain after all. If youngsters are turned over to relatives in Mexico, what assurance is there that they would be welcome, or that their families would be able to care for them adequately? The presence of young Mexicans in the United States in the first place seems to suggest that somebody thought they would be better off here than at home.

Finally, it seems inappropriate and unwise for a county government to be, in effect, carrying out its own foreign policy. The deportation of people from this country is properly the province of the federal government.

Overcrowding in detention facilities is a real problem. But bypassing the INS in deportations seems an unfair and unwise way to free up beds. For those being sent from the country, the preservation of due process should be a top priority.


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