Atty. Gen. William P. Barr, decrying crimes committed by immigrants in the United States, announced steps Tuesday to assure the swift deportation of convicted foreigners after they finish serving prison sentences.
"In our stepped-up efforts to deport those who crash our borders, criminal aliens will be the first to go," Barr told a California Town Hall lunch in Los Angeles. "And even those who enter legally and then commit crime will forfeit their privilege to stay.
"We will not tolerate aliens who come here to prey on the American people," Barr said in announcing that he is making criminal immigrants a priority target of the Justice Department.
About 11% of those held in Los Angeles County Jail are immigrants and one-quarter of federal prisoners across the nation are criminal immigrants, Barr said. The greater portion of those in federal prisons reflects the large number of immigrants convicted of drug crimes in the accelerating war on drugs, an aide to Barr said.
Immigration rights advocates attacked Barr's comments as "more election-year politicking, feeding off the same old immigration hysteria."
Niels Frenzen, staff attorney for Public Counsel in Los Angeles, said criminal immigrants have been routinely deported for decades. Barr's proposals to expedite the process will save a minimal amount of time while inviting abuse of individual rights, Frenzen said.
Frenzen agreed that many criminal immigrants should be deported. But he added that there also are many cases in which immigrants convicted of minor crimes, such as writing a bad check, could be forced to return to dangerous situations in their native countries.
Madeline Janis, director of the Central American Refugee Center in Los Angeles, said speeding up the process only increases the risk of immigrants being coerced into returning because they do not understand the American legal system. "They're trying to speed things up so quickly that no one will know what happened to them," she said. "It's putting pressure on people to sign away their rights."
In addition to announcing the crackdown on immigrant lawbreakers, Barr said 50 more FBI agents are being assigned to California to work on gang investigations--26 of them to the Los Angeles FBI office. This raises the number of new federal agents assigned to gang work in California since January to 183, including 110 in Los Angeles.
Later in an interview with Times reporters and editors, Barr said that William Hogan, an assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted El Rukn gang members in Chicago, is being reassigned to Los Angeles to handle the stepped-up effort against gangs. Barr described Hogan as a "hard charger," noting that more than 70 El Rukn members were indicted under tough federal statutes and that the vast majority of them were convicted under Hogan's leadership.
Barr said he decided on the latest expansion after talking with Gov. Pete Wilson, who urged that federal anti-gang forces be increased. In addition to the 26 for Los Angeles, the new FBI agents include 19 for Oakland, three for San Diego and two in Sacramento.
Charlie Parsons, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles division, said he was gratified by the deployment of new agents, which raises the number of FBI agents in Los Angeles to 598. He added that some of the new agents already were being put into place Tuesday afternoon.
"We're going to use them to build on the effort that is under way with the task force," Parsons said, referring to a federal-local task force established to investigate crimes committed during the Los Angeles riots. Parsons said the new agents will work special operations with the Los Angeles Police Department, the Long Beach Police Department and possibly the Compton Police Department.
In ordering the crackdown on criminal immigrants, Barr said that an Immigration and Naturalization Service judge and INS investigators will be assigned to the Los Angeles County Jail to obtain deportation orders against convicted immigrants being held there.
After completing sentences, the immigrants can be deported without being released first, according to Barr. In the past, some deportable felon immigrants have committed additional crimes after being freed from prison.
Similar procedures have been established at state facilities in Florida, California, Illinois, Texas and New York. But this marks the first time that an INS judge and investigators are being assigned to a county jail.
As an indication of the scope of the problem of releasing criminal immigrants from custody before ordering them deported, Justice Department officials said that there are 10,875 immigrants at large in the United States who have been convicted of crimes and can be deported.
Barr said that the names of these fugitives are being placed in the FBI's National Crime Information Center, a computer index that state and local police consult to determine if a suspect they have arrested is wanted on other charges.
Since December, the names of 853 deportable immigrants have been placed in an index in a pilot project. There have been 92 "hits" as fugitives were stopped by law enforcement officers for other offenses and 54 were deported. This, Barr said, led to the decision to place the names of all deportable criminal immigrants into the computer system.
In a related action, Barr said he will order all U.S. attorneys to require criminal immigrants to agree to deportation in negotiating plea agreements with prosecutors. Immigrants will be given a reduction in time served as an inducement, he said.
"This would mean that, after the alien serves his sentence, he can be summarily deported without the need to go through costly, protracted proceedings," Barr said.
Times staff writers Jim Newton and Ashley Dunn contributed to this story.