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The State

Mexico Seeks Warning on Deportations

Officials ask the U.S. to give 72 hours' notice, with names and records, before sending ex-convicts back to their native country.

October 08, 2003|Anna Gorman | Times Staff Writer

Frustrated that ex-convicts are appearing on their side of the border without warning, Mexican officials are demanding more notice when U.S. authorities deport criminals after they are released from prison.

Convicted killers, robbers and drug dealers who complete their U.S. sentences are often sent across the border with no advance notification, Mexican consular and law enforcement officials say.

Mexican authorities want the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to provide names and records 72 hours in advance of the deportation of all convicted criminals.

Mexican law enforcement officers say that with more notice, they could check local and national criminal databases and arrest any immigrants with outstanding warrants. Those deportees would be detained before they have a chance to commit new crimes, said Martin Dominguez Rocha, Tijuana's head of public safety.

Mexican authorities also could monitor those ex-convicts who aren't wanted, Dominguez said. "If they constitute a risk there, they constitute a risk here," he said.

Dominguez pointed to the case of Mexican nationals Juan Jose Chagoya Ayala and Antonio Acevedo, who are accused of killing a Tijuana police officer and injuring another in a shooting June 5. He said both men had U.S. criminal records and recently had been deported without the knowledge of Mexican law enforcement officials.

In another case, two criminal immigrants who had been deported to Mexico were arrested last year after trying to carry out a kidnapping in Tijuana, law enforcement officers said. They also said several deported Los Angeles and San Diego gang members have committed crimes in Tijuana, such as possessing or selling drugs.

U.S. officials acknowledge that the Mexican government is not consistently notified when criminal immigrants are deported, which they say could lead to problems on both sides of the border.

"We have an obligation to them, if we can, to give them advance notice so they know what they have in their hands," said Ron Smith, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's San Diego field director for detention and removal.

The agency is reviewing the Mexican request to provide more warning, said spokesman Chris Bentley. Notification currently varies from case to case, he said.

Smith said the San Diego office informs Mexican authorities in advance as often as possible, but he sometimes doesn't get a warning himself when inmates are flown in from around the country to be deported.

In those cases, U.S. authorities inform the Mexican government only that a criminal is being deported as the convict crosses the border.

Roughly 13,350 Mexican nationals are serving time in California state prisons and are subject to possible deportation once they finish their sentences. There also are 26,000 Mexican nationals serving time in federal prisons across the country.

Immigrants, illegal or legal, can be deported if they are convicted of certain types of crimes. In the last year, immigration authorities have deported more than 64,000 criminal immigrants, including about 10,000 from San Diego and Imperial counties.

There are several possible solutions being discussed, including the use of short-term detention facilities pending deportation, and a collaborative effort to develop more effective databases in Mexico to reduce the turnaround time to check for warrants, Smith said.

Giving a three-day warning would not be an easy task, said Georgetown University professor William F. McDonald. Criminal immigrants do not all pass through one location before being deported, he said.

The U.S. government also lacks a comprehensive way to track immigrants serving time behind bars. And many of the deportations are informal, in which the deportees do not appear before an immigration judge and instead are taken straight to the border.

Mexico, for its part, does not have the resources to be able to check for warrants quickly or to monitor the ex-convicts as if they were on parole in the United States. Because of that, the U.S. doesn't have an incentive to provide the warning ahead of time, McDonald said. Nevertheless, Mexico should know who is coming across its borders, he added.

"How would you like a bus full of hardened criminals showing up one day?" he said. "It's delivering trouble to the doorstep."

Mexican Consul General Rodulfo Figueroa in San Diego said some of the local prisons call his office directly to tell him that immigrants are about to be deported. But there is no consistency from area to area. More cooperation between Mexican and American authorities also could improve security in the United States, he said.

"This is a serious problem," Figueroa said in an interview. "Some of these people had debts with justice in Mexico ... and there is no way we can get them because we never know that they are being deported."

About 60% of all California state prison inmates subject to deportation have been previously deported, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

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