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INS to End Pilot Program at Anaheim Jail

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Immigration and Naturalization Service has agreed to leave an agent in the Anaheim City Jail for another 30 days to check inmates for U.S. citizenship, but then plans to halt the pilot program.

Instead, the agency wants to expand its operations at the Orange County Jail, INS officials said Wednesday.

“We are going to wind down the project” in Anaheim, said Richard Rogers, district director for the Los Angeles office of the INS. “We feel it is inefficient to have criminal investigators there when they can be serving all of the cities in the County Jail.”

Anaheim’s police officials say the program is needed in their city to reduce crime committed in Anaheim by illegal immigrants.

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A 60-day study conducted by police last fall found that about 35% of all arrestees were in the country illegally. But a later INS study, conducted from late March to late May, found that 24% were illegal immigrants.

Rogers said that figure was too low to justify keeping two agents in the jail permanently and added that many of the illegal immigrants were arrested for minor offenses such as disorderly conduct or public drunkenness.

Police officials and Councilmen Bob Zemel and Tom Tait met with INS officials Wednesday and took issue with the results of their study.

“What the federal government might consider to be minor offenses aren’t necessarily minor offenses in our community,” Tait said.

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City and police officials said the INS figures are lower than the city’s because the two agents assigned to the jail are only there part time and missed interviewing about 25% of the arrestees.

“Their numbers are never going to be as high as ours, because they aren’t there 24 hours a day,” Zemel said.

Zemel said the 30-day extension “will allow us the opportunity to work with them on strategies. I think their biggest concern is a lack of resources and what would happen if every city wants this.”

Rogers said the agency is trying to arrange for a retired INS agent to work in the jail to help police screen for illegal immigrants.

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Within the next 30 days, federal legislation could be passed that would require the INS to remain at the jail for at least six more months, regardless of what the local INS decides. The legislation is part of the Immigration Reform Act expected to go before President Clinton by the end of July.

City officials said they do not agree with the INS’ plan to transfer the agents to the County Jail. There, three full-time agents screen immigrants for deportation as they are about to be released from custody. In Anaheim, agents screen for citizenship before the suspect goes to court.

Anaheim officials say that interviewing arrestees before their arraignment is crucial because it makes a judge aware of their immigration status. This gives the judge the opportunity to place a “hold” on an illegal immigrant to prevent his release before trial.

The city’s push to rid Anaheim of illegal immigrants who commit crimes intensified after the Sept. 8, 1995, shooting of Police Officer Tim Garcia by an illegal immigrant who had been deported twice.

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The immigrant was killed in an exchange of gunfire at a motel near Disneyland, and Garcia was seriously wounded.


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