Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Day 3- Crossing the Border

Here we are on day 3. Today's discussion is about the fake documents and what law enforcement is allowed or not allowed to do.

It's easy to look `legal'
Undocumented workers can pay little for false IDs, licenses

Illegal immigration has relatively little effect on local law enforcement agencies, largely because officers and deputies seldom have any way of knowing that the people they encounter might not be here legally, officials said.

There are no databases, no computers with master lists of legal versus illegal residents.

"We don't have any way of really finding out about that," Kenosha Police Lt. Ron Bartholomew said. "When we have somebody, we're pretty much going by the documentation that they have - a lot of times it's been false documentation - but that's what we have to go off."

Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth said deputies often must assume people are here legally.

"That's the challenge. …What do you have to show you were born here?" he asked. "The average person has nothing that says you're a resident of the United States."

Detection is especially tough if people have state identification cards or driver's licenses, which undocumented immigrants can get legally in Wisconsin through early next year.

Gov. Jim Doyle signed a bill in March that requires proof of citizenship to get a driver's license or ID card. Under the law, the expiration date for licenses and IDs also would change for temporary legal residents. Instead of expiring on the person's birthday, their licenses and IDs would expire when they are no longer legally allowed to be in the United States.

The law, which takes effect in April 2007, would bring Wisconsin closer to compliance with federal identification and security standards.

Before it was passed and until it takes effect, undocumented immigrants can get licenses or identification cards as long as they proved they lived in Wisconsin. That could be done with a utility bill or pay stub.

"Basically, you had to pass a driving test. … You did not have to prove you were a resident of this country," said Patty Mayers, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Transportation.

The new law could give officers and deputies a bit more confidence that the licensed drivers they stop are legal residents, but it really doesn't matter whether those drivers are legal or not.

Even if an officer or deputy discovers someone is here illegally, agents won't take people who were stopped for a broken taillight, speeding, even drunken driving.

"We don't remove on traffic violations," said Allan Henninger, an investigative assistant with the Department of Homeland Security office in Milwaukee.

Agents also don't arrest misdemeanor offenders - people who get arrested for disorderly conduct, shoplifting. In fact, the feds won't pick up an illegal immigrant simply for being arrested for anything. The alleged offender must be charged with a crime for federal agents to get involved. Even then, the crime must typically be a felony.

Kenosha County prosecutors use several legal manuals to help them decide when federal authorities might get involved.

Even when prosecutors call federal agents, there is no guarantee that agents would pick that person up, Kenosha County District Attorney Robert Zapf said. Local authorities simply suggest that someone be taken. Federal authorities must make that decision.

Often, federal agents wait until someone has been charged or convicted. The process for deportation often doesn't begin until an offender is toward the end of a prison sentence.

Once deportation proceedings begin, illegal immigrants are often housed in places like the Kenosha County Jail. Beth said housing federal inmates awaiting deportation hearings is probably the most common way local law enforcement officials encounter illegal immigration.

The jail and county detention center are home to between 50 and 120 inmates, Sheriff's Capt. Gary Preston said. The county is paid $70 per day per inmate to keep them here for the bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"If they're here, it's usually because they're facing deportation," Preston said.

Kenosha deputies make at least two trips each day to ICE headquarters in Chicago, where regional deportation hearings are held; the county also gets mileage reimbursement.

The collection of Kenosha prisoners is jokingly referred to as the "United Nations."

"We've had Laotians, Cambodians, eastern Europeans, central Americans, south Americans, Chinese. It's a United Nations," Preston said.

Instructions are posted in at least seven languages, including Spanish, Laotian, Thai and at least one Chinese dialect. Inmates also have access to special AT&T phone lines, which connect them to a translator.

Preston said federal inmates are housed much like other inmates - they are assigned cells based on their danger classification. Class 8 is least dangerous, class 1 most dangerous. Most of the federal inmates are Class 5, Preston said.

Deputies do have to be mindful of the differences with federal inmates, specifically that they have more library access and greater access to medical services. Outsiders need special permission to talk to federal inmates. Inspections are done twice each year to make sure local officials are following the rules.

Today's questions:

Do you believe that Homeland Security should be providing local law enforcement the ability to identify illegal immigrants?

Do you believe that local and state law enforcement agencies are handcuffed by current laws that protect illegal immigrants?

Do you believe that any ILLEGAL immigrant should be deported, even if they only committed a misdemeanor?

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