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Success Rate in INS Cases Declines


WASHINGTON — Southern California's success rate for prosecuting people charged with immigration violations has declined significantly in the last four years, according to a research organization.

About 77% of the immigration cases brought in Southern California federal court last year resulted in convictions, down from 89% in 1997, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University said in a report released Monday.

Nationally, the trend was toward more successful prosecutions. About 87% of such cases across the country ended in convictions last year, up from 77% nationally four years earlier.

Among the 94 immigration districts in the United States, the Southern California district--a narrow swath extending along the Mexican border--ranked 80th last year in the percentage of successful prosecutions.

That put the Southern California district slightly behind the Central California district, which includes Los Angeles and Orange County. The Central California district was ranked 77th, with a conviction rate of 79%.

Cases are prosecuted when the Immigration and Naturalization Service refers them to the U.S. attorney's office.

In Southern California last year, the U.S. attorney's office prosecuted 99.7% of the cases referred by the INS, compared with 93% nationally, the Syracuse University group reported.

The report comes at a time when the INS, a controversial agency for years, has come in for an unusual amount of criticism.

President Bush has proposed moving the agency into the Department of Homeland Security, which his administration is seeking to create.

The House voted to move only the INS's law enforcement functions and to leave its offices in charge of immigration services in the Justice Department.

The Senate has not acted on the bill.

"Some say INS stands for 'Ignoring National Security,' " Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, said when the House first proposed splitting the INS into two pieces last April. "It's hard to argue with that."

Russell Bergeron, an INS spokesman in Washington, said the changing nature of immigration cases in Southern California has accounted for at least some of the decline in the rate of successful prosecutions there.

Cases for smuggling illegal aliens and possessing counterfeit immigration documents take longer to build and are more likely to fail, Bergeron said.

The Southern California U.S. attorney's office declined comment.

Pete Nunez, a former San Diego district attorney and President Reagan's immigration czar, was surprised that the Syracuse University report showed such a low success rate for Southern California immigration prosecutions.

"A U.S. attorney isn't going to accept a case for prosecution unless they think they can win it," Nunez said.

"Usually the conviction rate in any attorney's office is 99%."

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