Monday, December 03, 2007

Undocumented Latino Immigrants targeted.Fayette prosecutor to check jail bookings. They were people arrested and jailed for false Social Security numbers, but it turned out they had valid documents.

Lexington's top prosecutor is taking a more active role in identifying undocumented immigrants who are in the county jail or are expected to stand trial.

Fayette Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson, who has already called for federal immigration law training at the Fayette County Detention Center, said earlier this week his office has started to compile lists of those accused of felonies who are possibly in the United States Undocumented. Their information is sent to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Kentucky for further investigation and possible issue of a personal detainer.

So far, 10 people have been identified, including two this week, Larson said.

Too often, an undocumented person serves a jail sentence and is then released into the community, he said.

"Instead of being released back onto the streets, we want them released back out of the country," Larson said. "We're hoping to deter people from committing crimes who are not in this country legally."

Larson's policy change is the latest development in a months-long debate over immigration policy in Lexington. It's occurring at a time when efforts to reform federal immigration law have failed several times in Washington, D.C. Increasingly, in a piecemeal manner, local officials in communities around the country are attempting to address the immigration issue.

Recently, Larson was a member of Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry's commission on immigration. During commission meetings, Larson advocated training jail officials or sheriff's deputies in federal immigration law to better ascertain the immigration status of people arrested and booked into the jail. Ultimately, the majority of the commission members recommended no Fayette agency seek federal immigration training, also known as 287 g.

Larson said his work on the commission was a factor in his recent decision to begin forwarding information to ICE. It's something his office should have done earlier, he said.

When a felony case comes to his office after a grand jury indictment, staff members review booking information. If the Social Security Number begins with "999" and the birthplace is outside the United States, it's reasonable to think the person is an undocumented immigrant, Larson said.

The "999" is used as a placeholder when a person doesn't have a Social Security number or jail intake officers don't think the person is providing a valid number, Larson said.

ICE officials, who are fully trained to investigate immigration matters, make the final decision on whether to issue an immigration detainer, he said.

If a detainer is issued, the person would be put into deportation proceedings after serving his or her sentence, Larson said.

If a person is acquitted at trial and is released from custody, an immigration detainer would still be in place, an ICE spokesman said.

"He's still in the country illegally whether he committed the offense or not," said Tim Counts, an ICE spokesman in Minnesota.

Currently, the Fayette jail does not actively alert ICE about inmates who might have entered or remained in the United States illegally. However, ICE has electronic access to the inmate database and can obtain all relevant booking information, said city spokeswoman Susan Straub.

Even before Larson's decision to notify ICE officials about particular individuals, "they already had access to this information," Straub said. Occasionally, ICE does ask jail officials to be on the lookout for a particular person. If that person turns up at the jail, then Fayette officials call ICE, she said.

Counts, the ICE spokesman based in Minnesota, said the information from Larson's office is welcome. He couldn't say how common it is for a prosecutor to send information, but said law enforcement officials and others send inquiries or information to ICE every day.

"We are always interested in getting leads, no matter what the source is," he said.

In Louisville, the commonwealth's attorney does not review the immigration status of those accused of crimes and does not relay information to ICE, said Steve Tedder, the communications director for the Jefferson County commonwealth's attorney's office.

However, closer to Fayette County, Commonwealth's Attorney Gordie Shaw, who prosecutes cases in Scott, Woodford and Bourbon counties, said he has called immigration authorities when he thought someone accused of a crime was undocumented.

During his unsuccessful reelection campaign, Gov. Ernie Fletcher announced he had sought 287g training for five Department of Corrections officers to review the immigration status of people already convicted of a crime and serving sentences in the state prisons.

Yesterday, Vicki Glass, spokeswoman for Gov.-elect Steve Beshear, said he supports the idea of 287g. Once he takes office, he will review the program and decide how to proceed, she said.

Any time local officials look to enforce federal immigration law, it's a concern, said Georgetown attorney Amy Duncliffe, whose clients include Spanish-speaking immigrants. Local officials just don't have the training to investigate and accurately determine a person's immigration status, she said.

Twice, Duncliffe said, she has had clients who were arrested and jailed for false Social Security numbers, but it turned out they had valid documents.

"It may eventually get straightened out, but they will spend extra time in jail," she said. "You can wipe out a person's life if they spend a week in jail."

Deportation also can create other consequences, Duncliffe said.

In late 2005, another client was charged with breaking her 3-month-old's arm. The Fayette grand jury acquitted the woman in March of 2006, but she was still deported, leaving her two children in the United States. The children were placed in foster care and could have been put up for adoption. Ultimately, they were placed with an aunt.

"The problem that was created is much bigger than the problem 'solved' by her deportation," Duncliffe said

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