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Eye On Olympia

And now, for something completely different…

Here’s the tale of John Malito, a Chattaroy gardener facing deportation to his native Italy after more than five decades as a legal permanent resident here…

TACOMA – Johnny Malito spends his days among the white walls and steel doors of an immigration detention center here, waiting for a letter that he hopes never comes.

Convicted on drug and gun charges nearly two decades ago, Malito was allowed to remain in the United States. But convicted of two more counts of the same gun charge last year – and having already served his sentence in state prison – the Chattaroy gardener is now being held indefinitely in a federal immigration detention center. The government is trying to deport Italian-born Malito to the country he left as a young boy more than half a century ago.

Such cases – foreign criminals, living illegally or legally in the United States, are a growing priority for federal immigration officials, who are expanding their efforts to remove them. Since 2005, for example, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has quadrupled the number of federal prisons where it looks for criminal aliens.“Like everyone else, we have our priorities, and criminals are our No. 1 priority,” said Bryan Wilcox, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s deputy field office director for detention and removal in Seattle.

Malito’s case “is unusual in the sense that the guy’s been here such a long time, but it’s not unusual in the increased sense of scrutiny for cases like these,” said Pedro Rios, a San Diego immigration expert who works for the Quaker group the American Friends Service Committee.

If Italian officials sign the paperwork authorizing his return, Malito, at 60, will be trying to start over in a country and language he barely remembers.

Click here to read the full story, or

click here to watch a two-minute video in which he describes his case and life in the immigration detention center.

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Richard Roesler covers Washington state news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Olympia.

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