U.S. Directs Deportees Away From Juarez

U.S. Directs Deportees Away From Jurez
As Violence Worsens in the Mexican Border City, American Government Funnels Former Prisoners to Other

By Nicholas Casey and Joel Millman
The Wall Street Journal, March 29, 2010

Ciudad Juarez, Mexico — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has begun directing deported criminals away from Ciudad Jurez amid concerns of mounting bloodshed in the border town, U.S. and Mexican authorities said.

Starting March 4, Mexicans who have served time for crimes in the U.S. and who were set to be deported into Jurez, the Mexican city next to El Paso, Texas, have instead been transferred to other entry points into Mexico, including Eagle Pass, Laredo and Del Rio, Texas, according to a law-enforcement official in Washington who wasn't authorized to speak about the changes publicly.

ICE deported 136,126 criminal aliens last year, the vast majority held for crimes committed in the U.S. Of that number, more than two-thirdsabout 104,000 former prisonerswere from Mexico.

Central Americans were the next-largest contingent, with more than 6,000 each from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemalathree countries that have endured decades of warfare by drug gangs.

Not every deportee removed by ICE is a violent gunman. Most were in jail for relatively minor infractions such as driving without a license.

Under U.S. law, any individual detained by the authorities who subsequently is found to be in the U.S. illegally may be incarcerated and then turned over to ICE for removal.

Redirecting convicted criminals is only a temporary measure, the U.S. law-enforcement official said, and was in response to Mexican complaints that deported criminals were joining the deadly cartel war in Jurez.

Mexican officials confirmed the new arrangement and said it was a step forward in fighting drug-related crime. Jurez is Mexico's most deadly city and among the world's most dangerous.

More than 2,600 people were killed in drug-related violence in Jurez last year, up from 1,600 in 2009. Since January 2008, two drug organizations, the Jurez and Sinaloa cartels, have been locked in a turf war to control Jurez, a U.S. entry point for drugs such as cocaine and marijuana. The recession also has led to the rise of independent criminal bands which extort local businesses and kidnap residents for ransom.

Deported convicts play a role in the violence. Some 6,164 deported convicted criminals arrived in Jurez from the U.S. in 2009 alone, according to ICE. The convicts, from all over Mexico, often stay in the border cities to which they have been deported, and many can't find jobs. That makes them a rich target for recruitment by drug cartels as they seek to replace members who are killed, Mexican officials say.

Jos Reyes Ferriz, the mayor of Jurez, says the issue has long posed a problem for public safety. 'They are killers, rapists and hard criminals,' he says. 'This has become very significant to us.'

Mr. Reyes says city officials last year conducted a study to determine how many homicides in a five-month period were linked to deportees. The answer: About 10% of the dead had been deported by the U.S. during the last two years, he said. Statistics on who the killers are aren't available. Jurez had 2,640 murders last year, the majority unsolved, according to its police department.

Authorities on the other side of the border say deported criminals have caused problems there as well, after sneaking back into the U.S.

'We detain them all the time,' says Deputy Sheriff Jesse Tovar of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office. 'Through crimes that are committed or ones in process … we often find previously deported felons.' The department has no statistics on the incidents, however.

After documenting the link between deported criminals and local crime, city officials in Jurez brought their complaints to officials at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Mr. Reyes said. 'I had told them: Listen, you can't deport them to Jurez like this.'

Mr. Reyes says he was informed of the U.S. decision earlier this month.

U.S. jails today hold many foreign nationals who will be removed directly to their nations of origin as soon as they complete their sentences, so-called ICE holds.

Large state prison systems such as those of California and Texas generate the most ICE deportees.

Those systems also hold the most violent prison gangs, the ones authorities fear provide Mexican drug gangs south of the border with their best opportunity to recruit 'soldiers' slated for removal to Mexico.

California, with the nation's largest prison system, presently has more than 13,000 Mexican nationals designated as ICE holds in its many facilities, out of 106,000 inmates on hold for ICE pickup in California's state prison system.

Texas last year had more than 8,500 inmates from Mexico, many serving time for violent crimes who also were designated as ICE holds, according to a report prepared for the state legislature.