Friday, April 6, 2007


Re-deport gang suspects
The city and county should cooperate with federal authorities to remove gang injunction violators with prior deportation orders.

WHEN A SUSPECTED gang member is charged or convicted in a gang-related crime, should the local prosecutor let the feds know if his rap sheet has any felonies they might be interested in? Clear away the emotional rhetoric and bureaucratic confusion that fog discussion of immigration and the law, and this is the question raised this week by county Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley and City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo.

The answer is yes. Cooley's proposal, which is months away from being finalized, would work something like this: If the Sheriff's Department arrests and charges either a suspected gangbanger or chronic criminal offender, prosecutors would check his record — not for immigration status but for prior deportation orders. If the suspect is indeed a former deportee who has made it back into the country, that information could be forwarded to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for possible deportation hearings. The more minor the original charge, the more likely the county would transfer the case.

Delgadillo, meanwhile, announced a new policy Thursday, effective immediately, of handing over to federal authorities the names of anyone convicted of violating a gang injunction. Those names would be checked for immigration status and criminal history.The benefits of these policies are not hard to fathom. Gang crime is the most pressing law enforcement issue in the county, and a significant (though minority) portion of it is committed by transnational gangs with serial border-crossing members. More than 20% of inmates who pass through L.A. County's overcrowded jails are undocumented. Illegal immigrants caught spray-painting gang graffiti should have no reasonable expectation of remaining in the country.But the drawbacks aren't hard to imagine either.

The odious 1990s Rampart police scandal arose from an LAPD anti-gang unit that used threats of deportation to coerce false confessions and worse. The LAPD's Special Order 40, which prohibits officers from enforcing federal immigration laws, remains an important protection against both abuse and the discouragement of law-abiding immigrants from cooperating with police. Concerns such as these are why Delgadillo is giving federal authorities only the names of those convicted, not of suspects.These two measures are likely to have far less effect than advertised by either supporters or detractors.

The city obtains about 300 gang-injunction convictions a year, and the number of prior deportees isn't high. But if a few of the region's worst criminals can be deported, and if the undocumented are discouraged from joining gangs, both will have been worth it.Any public policy that affects both immigration and crime is bound to be controversial. On both counts, however, these policies make sense. It's more productive to deport illegals charged with crimes than those who have the bad luck to work at a factory that gets raided by the feds.

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