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Inmates in O.C. are held for ICE

Ten percent -- 639 -- of those entering sheriff's jail system in the first weeks of a screening program are suspected illegal immigrants.

March 23, 2007|Garrett Therolf | Times Staff Writer

Ten percent of inmates arriving in the Orange County sheriff's jail system during the first five weeks of a new screening program were found to be likely illegal immigrants and were set to face hearings that could result in their deportation.

The statistics were from Jan. 19 to Feb. 25, as Sheriff Michael S. Carona began requiring that jail deputies screen all foreign nationals for immigration violations.

The findings come as law enforcement agencies around Southern California and beyond are trying to determine how many of their inmates are here illegally and should be deported.

In Los Angeles County, an increase in screeners has nearly doubled the number of inmates identified as illegal immigrants, from 3,050 in 2005 to 5,829 last year. But the county and Immigration and Customs Enforcement are screening only a fraction of the inmates in Los Angeles County jails. Last year, screeners interviewed nearly 10,000 of the 170,000 inmates who went through L.A. County jails, estimating that more than 20% of the jail population was in the country illegally.

By contrast, Orange County now screens all inmates entering the jails. Jail deputies booked 6,160 people from throughout the county during the period, and they found that 639 did not appear to have legal status in the United States. They will be referred to ICE after their cases go through the legal system and they serve any resulting prison time.

Of those detained for ICE, 425 were arrested on suspicion of felonies -- 56 of them on suspicion of aggravated felonies -- and 214 for alleged misdemeanors.

The Sheriff's Department said detailed information about the alleged infractions would be released but was not available Thursday.

Those detained were mostly from Latin America but included people from Egypt, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Germany, Romania, Vietnam, Thailand and South Korea.

In previous years, ICE authorities were stationed in Orange County jails, but the agents interviewed only 20% of foreign nationals in 2005.

To buttress the search for illegal immigrants, Carona won ICE approval to train sheriff's deputies to aid in the deportation effort.

"I have stated many times before that the intended results of the Cross-Designation Program are reduced crime, reduced jail overcrowding, and reduced cases for our court system -- all of which will serve our residents and businesses well," Carona said in a written statement.

"We are on the right track, and I look forward to sharing our continued successes in the coming months."

Amin David, who heads Los Amigos of Orange County, a Latino advocacy group, said illegal immigrants were becoming frightened to talk to the police. He said more than 500 people recently attended a community meeting in Costa Mesa, a city that operates a similar program in its jail.

David said the attendees were advised by an immigration attorney to limit their conversations with police when questioned on the street or in their homes.

"The attendees were advised to only give your name to the authorities and not to divulge anything else -- don't respond to questions," David said.

David worried, though, that the sheriff's program would cause illegal immigrants to refrain from reporting crimes.

"We kind of fear that this chilling effect is taking hold," he said.

Ryan Burris, a Carona spokesman, said, "The sheriff doesn't think that this program is going to stop people from coming to police to report a crime out of fear that they will be deported, because it's not the goal of the program."

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garrett.therolf@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Booked

The Orange County Sheriff's Department detained for possible deportation 639 foreign nationals who had been booked into county jails from Jan. 19 to Feb. 25.

Foreign nationals booked into county jail:

Were detained for deportation: 639 (66.8%)

Were not detained: 317 (33.2%)

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Reason detainee was arrested:

Suspected felony: 425*

Suspected misdemeanor: 214

* Includes 56 suspected aggravated felonies

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Source: Orange County Sheriff's Department

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