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Immigration unit targets criminals

Tue., May 29, 2007

PORTLAND – Federal officials plan to step up efforts to deport illegal immigrants who have been jailed for committing crimes in Oregon and Washington.

New teams of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are to be based in Portland, Eugene, Seattle and Yakima, joining a Medford office, although officials won’t say how many new agents will be added to the focused effort in the two states. Nationally, the number is expected to be in the hundreds.

“Aliens that are criminals will be arrested and convicted, and if they’re subject to removal, we’re going to get to them before they get back on the street,” Neil Clark, field office director for Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s detention and removal operations in Seattle, told the Oregonian newspaper.

Agents checking records at jails and prisons can consider the gravity of crimes they encounter, Clark said, but the law gives agents the right to take in any illegal immigrant in the criminal justice system.

“I’m going to accomplish as much as I can,” he said.

“If I can do the complete workload, I will. If I can’t, then I’m going to get to the worst criminals first.”

Immigration attorneys agree that high-risk criminals should be deported, but they say the agency should zero in on violent criminals rather than shoplifters and identity thieves.

“It’s too much of a race to get people out,” said Kari Hong, who handles immigration cases in Portland and Oakland, Calif.

“People see categories, rather than facts of the crime. And when you try to remove people by categories, you’re going to catch many who are not a danger to society.”

Others say the agency’s campaign might encourage police to go after illegal immigrants or discourage immigrants from reporting crimes such as domestic violence because they fear their own deportations.

Lawyers handling criminal immigrant cases say the Northwest system is at capacity.

The federal detention center at Tacoma is nearing its 1,000-person capacity three years after it opened. To help handle the increased load in the Northwest, two judges will be added at the end of the summer, said Lori Dankers, an immigration agency spokeswoman.


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