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VENTURA COUNTY FOCUS / Countywide

Office for INS Enforcement Opens in County

January 06, 1998|NICK GREEN

Looking to crack down on business owners who employ undocumented workers, the Immigration and Naturalization Service on Monday opened its first permanent enforcement office in Ventura County.

The Camarillo location and its 18 workers represent the first contingent of more than 100 employees of the federal agency who are expected to move to the county in a reorganization of its Los Angeles-area bureaucracy.

A 37,000-square-foot office will open by year's end to eliminate the need for would-be U.S. citizens to trek to downtown Los Angeles to become naturalized. A site for that office has not been determined.

But the much smaller Camarillo facility, located in a business park and not open to the public, will be the headquarters for one-third of the local agency's employees who will focus on enforcement of immigration regulations.

"It's a real commitment and it's long overdue," said Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley), who has lobbied for a more visible local presence to combat illegal immigration. "The most important thing is a message: For the first time we have enforcement," he said.

In the past, most local immigration law enforcement has been conducted by two overworked agents who staff the Border Patrol office in Oxnard, officials said. Their assistance by plainclothes INS counterparts working from Los Angeles has been called inefficient by INS District Director Richard Rogers.

The opening of the Camarillo office and two others in the Greater Los Angeles area means that 40% of the district's resources will be reassigned closer to where the actual field work is done, Rogers said.

Local agents will staff a pilot program that in the last year has led to the arrest and deportation of more than 900 illegal immigrants from the Ventura County Jail.

But a crackdown on business owners who knowingly employ and often exploit illegal immigrants is expected to be the first tangible result of the office's opening.

"We haven't done that in the past," said Dan Hudson, the agent supervising the office. "Brace yourself, folks. We're going to be out there."

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