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INS Seeks to Exit Anaheim Jail

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Immigration and Naturalization Service wants to halt its pilot program of checking all inmates at the Anaheim jail for U.S. citizenship, citing smaller numbers than expected so far, according to an INS memo.

Anaheim has been trying to become the first city in California and one of the few in the United States to have INS agents stationed permanently at the jail to screen prisoners who may be deportable. The city’s police officials say the program is needed to stem crime being committed by illegal immigrants.

At the behest of Anaheim, the INS stationed two agents at the city jail in March to conduct a 60-day study. The agents have remained at the jail for four additional weeks as the INS pondered the program’s future.

During the 60-day period, the agents found that 24% of those arrested were in the country illegally, in contrast to an earlier city study that showed the number at 35%.

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But some city officials dispute the findings, contending the INS is trying to minimize the situation to justify pulling out. They say 60 days is not long enough to determine the true scope of the city’s problem and are lobbying for a six-month study.

Councilman Bob Zemel, who has been at the forefront of the city’s effort, called the INS’ conclusions “unconscionable.”

“I hope to impress upon them what this program is really about,” Zemel said. “The Police Department is bringing the criminals to the INS’ doorstep. To say that’s not a good system flies in the face of what their mission is. We can make a difference here.”

INS and city officials are scheduled to meet today to discuss the future of the program. An INS spokesman said the agency will not comment on the matter until after today’s meeting.

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Councilman Tom Tait, who has worked with Zemel on the INS effort, said it “would be crazy” to end the program at this point.

“Even if it is 24%, that’s a significant number,” Tait said. “If we could address 24% of our crime by having agents in our jail, that’s a small investment to make.”

But in a memo to Los Angeles District Director Richard K. Rogers, John Brechtel, acting officer in charge of the Orange County INS office, said the “Anaheim jail project is not an efficient use of limited INS manpower resources.”

Brechtel wrote that the agents could be more effectively used at the Orange County Jail, where three full-time INS agents already screen immigrants for deportation as they are about to be released from custody. In Anaheim, agents screen for citizenship before a suspect goes to court.

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Anaheim officials believe that interviewing arrestees before their arraignment is crucial. It makes a judge aware of their immigration status so that a “hold” can be placed on them to prevent their release before trial.

In all, the INS detained 421 of 1,903 inmates interviewed and transferred about 45% of them to the County Jail, where they would await trial on serious charges.

The remaining 55% were released to the INS from the Anaheim jail following their first court appearance. Brechtel acknowledges that without the INS agents in Anaheim, those 232 people would have been released to the streets. But he wrote that those people were arrested for minor offenses.

The city’s push to rid the city of illegal immigrants who commit crimes was begun after the Sept. 8, 1995, shooting of Anaheim Police Officer Tim Garcia by an illegal immigrant who had been deported twice. The immigrant was killed in an exchange of gunfire at a motel near Disneyland, and Garcia was seriously wounded. The 350-member Anaheim Police Officers Assn. subsequently asked the City Council to seek an INS agent in the jail.

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Anaheim officials had offered to spend the $37,000 it would cost to have the INS agents at the jail for six months. But federal authorities said that regulations prevent them from allowing the city to pick up the tab.

The INS counted a smaller percentage of deportable prisoners than did the city in its study last fall because INS agents “are not here 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Capt. George E. Schrader of the department’s special operations division.

“We know they aren’t talking to all of the people we process,” Schrader said.

If the INS does leave the Anaheim jail, it might be back.

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Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) has sponsored an amendment to the Immigration Reform Act that calls for the federal government to fund a six-month pilot program at the Anaheim and Ventura County jails.

The bill is expected to go before President Clinton for signing in late July or early August, said Kristine Thalman, the city’s intergovernmental officer.

If the bill is signed in its current form, the agents would have to return to Anaheim for a six-month program. City officials are concerned that wording on the bill might be changed to include the county jail instead of Anaheim.


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