Sunday, September 21, 2008

More Oregon arrests end in deportation (The Oregonian)

More Oregon arrests end in deportation

by Kate Taylor, The Oregonian
Saturday September 20, 2008, 8:20 PM

The number of foreign-born criminals referred to immigration authorities soared in Oregon over the past year, spurred by increased enforcement and the case of an illegal immigrant who slipped through the cracks and murdered a 15-year-old girl.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported 7,345 people from Oregon, Washington and Alaska during the first nine months of the current federal fiscal year, which ends Sept 30.

That's a 40 percent jump from the 5,256 people deported over the same period in 2007, according to Lorie Dankers, spokeswoman for ICE's Northwest region.

Dankers -- who attributes the increase to expanded federal funding as well as heightened vigilance among local law enforcement -- said she couldn't isolate Oregon figures because her agency tracks illegal immigrants regionally and by country of origin.

Throughout Oregon, however, police, district attorneys, sheriff's officers and others say their screening systems are tighter and better coordinated with federal immigration efforts. With the aid of special training in some cases and with varied methods, approaches and resources, they say they're helping nab more people who commit crimes while living here illegally.

In the Portland area, Clackamas, Washington and Multnomah counties now flag all foreign-born inmates, resulting in the referral of hundreds of people to immigration authorities every month.

A wake-up call
Alejandro Emeterio Rivera Gamboa pleaded guilty last week in Clackamas County Circuit Court to killing 15-year-old Dani Countryman in the early morning of July 28, 2007. Nine months before the girl's death, authorities missed a chance to expel Rivera Gamboa when he pleaded guilty to drunken driving and disclosed that he was not a U.S. citizen.

Within weeks of Countryman's death, Clackamas County began screening suspects and criminals at each step of the law-and-order process -- jail, prosecution, probation -- and over the past year nearly doubled the number of referrals to immigration authorities. In August 2007, the sheriff's office made 33 reports to ICE; last month, the number was 64.

"The (Countryman) case played a role in our awareness," said Clackamas County Deputy District Attorney Greg Horner. "It exposed, if not a loophole, an area that frankly we had missed."

As in some other counties, Clackamas County now has an immigration agent with a desk near the jail, said Lt. Lee Eby, Clackamas County jail spokesman.

"We work side by side," Eby said. "It makes sense, since we take in a lot of information when we process someone here. There are often red flags that pop up, and when they pop up, we let (the immigration officer) know about it."

Marion and Washington counties also saw their numbers rise after adopting a comprehensive approach to identify possible illegal immigrants.

"We ask every single person who walks through the door (of the jail) if they are foreign-born," said Lt. Sheila Lorance of the Marion County Sheriff's Office. In 2007, the jail identified 3,423 foreign-born inmates, about one out of every six people booked into the jail.

Sgt. Dave Thompson of the Washington County Sheriff's Office said identifying suspected illegal immigrants is now "just a simple equation -- if someone's born outside of the country (when they make contact with Washington County law enforcement), they're reported to ICE."

Better cooperation
In June 2007, ICE asked local law enforcement agencies to start notifying the agency about every possible illegal immigrant who came through the system. The agency's beefed-up Criminal Alien Program -- funded this fiscal year at $178 million -- came with more officers and better technology to track illegal immigrants.

Raul Ramirez, executive director of the Oregon State Sheriffs' Association, said he sees "enhanced awareness" and "solid" cooperation throughout law enforcement.

Before 2007, "ICE was pretty inconsistent about responding to calls, and they were also inconsistent about coming to pick people up," Thompson said. "Now, they've really stepped up, and they're doing a good job."

Clackamas County jail officials agree.

"ICE took a big step forward," said Lt. Lee Eby, spokesman for the Clackamas County jail. "It's been dramatic in helping us be more effective."

No comments: