Feds step up deportation efforts
Immigration agency says more illegals being sent home, including those in jail
By Tim Smith
The Greenville News (SC), July 6, 2008
Columbia — By the time police caught up with Guillermo Raya-Mendoza last April, the 22-year-old Mexican had been involved in two Myrtle Beach-area wrecks in a car stolen from a Greenville family.
Authorities eventually charged him with burglarizing the family's Myrtle Beach duplex, grand theft, DUI, driving without a license and hit and run.
He served seven months behind bars for his crimes, and when he was released from a Columbia prison, he was picked up by federal immigration agents.
Raya-Mendoza was among 14,118 illegal immigrants in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia deported by the federal government since Oct. 1, according to the U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement agency.
While the state's politicians lash Congress for failing to pass immigration reform and criticize the federal government for allowing so many illegal immigrants to flood the nation, little is said about what the government does with those it catches.
Yet deportations are up, and the agency responsible for finding illegals wants Americans to know it is sending more illegals home than ever before.
'The fact of the matter is that our officers deport people every day,' said Barbara Gonzalez, a regional spokeswoman for ICE who works in Miami. 'Deportations are up every year. I attribute that to increased activities by the agency and increased resources.'
According to the agency's Web site, federal agents removed 276,912 illegal aliens from the nation in 2007 fiscal year, a new record. It took 323,845 removal cases to immigration court during the same time period.
It also scoured the nation's prisons, looking for illegals doing time in state and federal penitentiaries. ICE filed 11,292 charging documents against criminals in federal prisons and initiated removal proceedings against 164,296 prisoners in all types of jails and prisons, according to the agency.
ICE also arrested 1,558 'high-risk' visa violators, officials said.
In South Carolina, illegal immigrants come to the government's attention in a variety of ways. Some jails and detention centers, such as the one in Pickens County, screen all prisoners and notify immigration agents when they find possible illegals. Others are caught in workplace raids. Still others, already known to the agency, are caught by its fugitive team.
Those serving time for a conviction must complete their sentence before immigration agents will pick them up, though they will place a detainer on the inmate as soon as they determine the prisoner is in the country illegally, officials said.
If the person has not been deported before, he or she is given a formal notice to appear and granted a hearing before a federal immigration judge. The judge, according to the U.S. Justice Department, which operates the immigration court system, makes sure the immigrant understands what the government is alleging and informs him of free or low-cost legal services available in the area.
ICE and its parent agency, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, can set a bond for the immigrant or decide no bond should be set. Immigrants can appeal either decision to the immigration judge. Criminals remain in custody until their hearing, Gonzalez said.
At the eventual hearing, government lawyers present the case against the immigrant and why he should be removed. The immigrant presents his case and can ask for relief from removal, such as asylum, if the circumstances warrant such a request. The judge normally announces his decision at the end of the hearing, according to the Justice Department's Web site.
Immigrants can appeal the judge's decision to the federal Board of Immigration Appeals and also to the federal courts after a decision by the board.
'Some cases can take weeks,' Gonzalez said. 'Some cases can take months. Some cases can take years.'
When the appeals are over, the agency sends the immigrant back to his native country, sometimes with an escort depending on risk factors, Gonzalez said. Sometimes the agency uses commercial flights, she said.
In South Carolina, for instance, those from Mexico are sent by vehicle to agency transportation centers, where the immigrants are then placed on flights home.
Gonzalez said each flight costs taxpayers between $600 and $700, depending on the destination.
Raya-Mendoza was deported two months after his release from prison, according to ICE. His lawyer said he had been in South Carolina about a year before he was caught.
Illegals caught near the nation's border are sent back more quickly. The agency last year said it had decreased its processing time in such cases to 19 days from apprehension to removal.
But that doesn't mean the agency is finding all illegal immigrants or deporting every one of those it knows about.
Tim Morgan, the assistant sheriff in Pickens County, said his deputies have notified immigration officials of 78 illegals that deputies have arrested since last August, when the sheriff's office began tracking numbers on illegal immigrant cases. ICE picked up 20 and filed detainers on 11 more, Morgan said. The rest, he said, the agency declined to pick up.
Morgan said he believes ICE is not interested in inmates with less serious charges. Those declined, he said, were arrested on charges ranging from reckless driving to driving without a license and disorderly conduct.
That bothers Margaret Thompson, a Clemson city councilwoman and a vocal supporter of immigration reform. She said she believes ICE could do more good if it did several roundups of more ordinary illegal workers at places where they gather. She said illegals know the government only goes after serious crimes and many stay hidden that way.
'It's like saying you're a little bit pregnant,' she said. 'You're either illegal or you're not.'
Gonzalez said the agency prioritizes its cases 'based on the greatest threat to the community.'
Feds catch more who come back after being deported
By Tim Smith
The Greenville News (SC), July 7, 2008
Columbia — South Carolina politicians have long complained that some illegal immigrants have viewed the nation's borders as a revolving door, that deportation is only a temporary setback.
Barbara Gonzalez, a regional spokeswoman for the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, said her agency works hard to catch those who return and have increased the numbers of such apprehensions.
From October 2007 through May 2008, she said, investigations by ICE's Office of Detention and Removal Operations led to the prosecution of 3,831 illegal aliens for felony re-entry after deportation, compared to 1,808 such prosecutions in all of fiscal year 2007.
Gonzalez said her agency is 'very aggressive' about prosecuting illegal immigrants who return to the country after being deported.
Returning illegals face felony charges if caught, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, she said.
'It's not like they are going to come here and not be held accountable,' she said.
Once they serve their sentence, she said, they are deported immediately, without further hearings.
But not everyone is caught or discouraged.
Last December, according to federal prosecutors in South Carolina, Jose Antonio Ferreira-Calderon, a 40-year-old Mexican native, pleaded guilty to charges he made and sold counterfeit green cards.
He was arrested in Surfside Beach after allegedly selling cards to an undercover agent last August. He had been deported twice in 2006, according to prosecutors.
Such examples show how porous the nation's border is, said Margaret Thompson, a Clemson city councilwoman and critic of immigration enforcement.
'Somebody is not doing their job,' she said.