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Study: Illegal aliens drain county funds

This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press December 26, 2000

Valley Press Staff Writer

Almost one-fourth of county jail inmates are subject to deportation, a population costing Los Angeles taxpayers more than $150 million a year, the Sheriff's Department reported.

The recently released study found that 23% of county inmates fall under the "deportable criminal alien" category, which includes illegal immigrants and legal immigrants who have committed serious crimes and therefore lost their legal status.

A 1990 study by a countywide multiagency task force found 11% of county inmates were subject to deportation.

Processing the criminal immigrants through the justice system, including attorney, court and Sheriff's Department fees, cost taxpayers more than $150 million. Housing the inmates in county jails cost $83 million, the report said.

The federal government reimburses state and local governments for some of the outlay but not nearly enough to cover L.A. County's costs. Los Angeles was awarded $19 million in 1999 from the government's $585 million State Criminal Alien Assistance Program.

"The federal government's failure to fully pay for these costs or enforce immigration laws has resulted in an immense financial hemorrhaging for the taxpayers, the county budget and weakening of our ability to provide vital services," said county Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, whose 5th district includes the Antelope Valley.

Another key problem for the county, according to the Sheriff's Department report, is the high rate of recidivism for criminal illegal residents.

Forty-five percent of criminal illegal immigrants are re-arrested after their release, with more than 80% of those offenses occurring in L.A. County, said Bob Mimura, head of the countywide criminal justice coordinating committee.

The Sheriff's Department has implemented an electronic fingerprint system that may help explain the rise of criminal illegals in the jail system, said sheriff's Capt. Richard Barrantes.

"We're able to positively identify more effectively who the individuals are," said Barrantes, who works in Custody Division's inmate reception center. "It's more accurate, faster and better. The numbers grow because now we're identifying more (and) they're probably committing additional crimes."

To help tackle the problem of repeat offenders, Mimura and Antonovich helped secure a $2.3 million grant from the Department of Justice that will pay for the computer coordination of various electronic tracking systems similar to that used by the Sheriff's Department.

The multiagency system will enable law enforcers to scan a suspect's fingerprints and determine if the person has a past criminal record and illegal residency status.

"Local police agencies would have no idea they're dealing with a previously deported criminal alien," Mimura said. "This will be a way of electronically flagging a person's criminal record."

The Sheriff's Department is the lead agency in developing the system, which will go out for bid in upcoming weeks, Mimura said.

When criminals are identified as deportable, investigators from Immigration and Naturalization Services remove them after they serve their sentences.

For deported criminal aliens, re-entering the country is a felony in itself, so any future arrest can carry a return ticket to the suspect's homeland, Mimura said.

"We recognize the fact that the problem is so big, one of the things we can do is to more effectively target the worst of the worst, the habitual offender," Mimura said.

The U.S. Attorney's Office operates by a similar policy, prosecuting between 150 to 200 criminal alien cases a year, said spokesman Thom Mrozek.

"In general we only prosecute the aliens who have multiple deportations and prior convictions for felony offenses," Mrozek said, adding that the office could prosecute "many more" if it had additional resources.

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