Criminal Aliens in Utah (Testimony by various officials)

Published in The Social Contract
Volume 11, Number 2 (Winter 2000-2001)
Issue theme: "America and Great Britan: common past - shared future?"

[Opening statement before the Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims of the House Committee on the judiciary, July 27, 1998, by Rep. Christopher Cannon (R-Utah)]

When I first went to Congress, almost two years ago now, and started to talk about some of the illegal immigration problems back home, most people were pretty skeptical. Then I presented these statistics as reported in 1995 by the Salt Lake County Board of Commissioners

* 20 percent of illegal aliens migrating to Utah do so for criminal activity - bringing drugs to sell or exchange for stolen goods (mostly guns);

* 45 percent of homicides in Salt Lake County involved illegal aliens; and

* 80 percent of those arrested for felony level narcotics violations in Salt Lake City were undocumented aliens, but only six percent of these ended up in INS hands.

The problems of illegal immigration no longer touch only our border states such as California, New York, Florida and the Chairman's own state of Texas. In fact, INS statistics show that out of every three illegal aliens to cross the border, only one is picked up by the border guard.

As a result, Salt Lake City, at the crossroads of Interstate 15 which extends up from the south, and Interstate 80, which extends out from the west, has become today a new area of opportunity for drug-trafficking, in particular, and illegal immigration, in general, as these problems spread out from border states and into our interior states - such as Utah.

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[Testimony of Sheriff Aaron D. Kennard of Salt Lake County.]

We have an immense problem with illegal aliens who continue to pose a significant crime problem to our communities, due to their drug dealing and other illegal activities.

As Sheriff of Salt Lake County, I operate two jails, and I provide full police services for unincorporated Salt Lake County and several municipalities. I actively support the DEA Metropolitan Narcotics Task Force that focuses on drug dealing in our residential areas.

One of our top criminal problems here in the Salt Lake valley, is criminals who come to our valley and use their illegal and undocumented status to help cover their criminal enterprises, that include selling drugs and committing violent crimes.

As we approach the turn of the millennium we face new challenges that might significantly impact crime. We will host the 2002 Winter Olympics. And we face tremendous growth. This will open even more potential for criminal predators to prey on our community. We must deal with current significant crime problems now so that they don't continue to impact us as we move forward.

Indeed, one of the significant crime problems that currently impacts our valley is that which is perpetrated by criminals who are in our country and our community illegally. My jail system has felt the brunt of that impact more than any single police agency.

We have not been able to fulfill our responsibility to incarcerate persons who are pending adjudication. This greatly frustrates the efforts of me and my staff. In order to help meet the challenges of our growing jail population, we have taken some creative steps to help us get by until our new jail is built.

We have used electronic monitoring. This program, along with creative conversion of administrative space to jail space has allowed us to increase our net capacity by 350 additional beds.

Still, the criminal aliens remain a serious burden on our jail population, and they are a continual threat to the community.

Next year we will open the new 2,000-bed jail. Until that additional capacity comes on line, I have identified four additional actions that might help relieve the crowding and better serve the community.

First, we successfully convinced judges to start accepting guilty pleas to drug charges, and sentencing illegal aliens to jail, pending voluntary deportation. In order for this initiative to succeed, INS needs to remove illegals from my jails as quickly as possible. At any given time I have more than forty prisoners awaiting deportation.

Second, INS has a fingerprinting system which they use to track illegal aliens. It is independent of the fingerprint system (Western Identification Network) used in my jails. Since INS does not interface their system with WIN, it would benefit INS to install a personal identification device in the jail to identify illegal aliens that have not been entered in the WIN system. This would help prevent premature release of repeat offenders who have not been through my jail system.

Third, I believe that INS needs to station an agent at our metropolitan jail in order to maximize the efficiency of the other steps that I addressed. Certainly, this would significantly benefit our local law enforcement initiatives aimed at addressing crime by illegal aliens. But it would also complete a systematic solution to the problem of crime committed by illegal aliens now, and for years to come.

Finally, I suggest that the INS create several 'Disruption Teams' consisting of six to eight agents. These teams would move into selected problem areas, identify criminal illegal aliens and their support systems, which also consists of illegal aliens. This would in turn disrupt and deport criminal aliens and their support systems until the problem ceases to exist. The team would then move on to another problem area. I believe that such a problem solving activity would be a very efficient and effective way for INS to deploy its resources here in our valley, and around the nation.

I believe that our first hand experience here in the Salt Lake valley with crime associated with criminal illegal aliens gives us the drive toward finding innovative ways to deal with such crime. Today we ask the Immigration and Naturalization Service to become a more aggressive partner with us in attacking this level of crime in our valley.

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[Mary Callaghan is a member of the Salt Lake County Board of Commissioners and chair of the Salt Lake County Criminal Justice Advisory Committee.]

I come before you to share some of our grave concerns regarding the federal government's failure to fulfill its responsibility in removing criminal undocumented immigrants from our community. Over the past few years, a consistent statistic which has been very troublesome to us is the fact that approximately 80 percent of all felony drug arrests in Salt Lake City are of undocumented immigrants. Indeed, the percentage of undocumented immigrants being arrested on felony drug charges has increased from 47 percent of all arrests county wide in 1996 to 53 percent in 1997.

Please be aware that despite Salt Lake County and its 13 cities' recent efforts - 350 new jail beds, additional officers and equipment - the Salt Lake City number has remained at 80 percent since 1994 when it became apparent that we had a crisis on our hands. To have such a small percentage of our population (who are unlawfully) committing so many serious crimes, including homicide, attempted murder, drug sales, etc., is totally unacceptable.

Of equal concern is the fact that so far in 1998 we have had to release 500 other jail inmates who should have been detained but have been freed due to the federal consent decree which places a cap on the total number of detainees within the jail. If we were not holding 100 to 140 undocumented immigrants on a typical day, we would not be having this problem to this extent. As it is, we are spending $132 million in property-tax dollars on a new jail, in part to address these required releases. We absolutely cannot let undocumented immigrant drug dealers have free reign over our streets. We, as local residents, cities, counties, and the state, are doing our part to address this problem. But we have neither the resources nor the authority to do the federal government's job as well.

We request your assistance in four initiatives

First, the local INS office has received some new help and it has made a difference in the number of illegal immigrants that the office has been able to process. Nevertheless, the INS still has many more cases than it can handle. Congress has authorized approximately 5,000 new INS personnel. Most of whom are slated for border patrol. This leaves the interior of our country unprotected. Since two out of three attempts to illegally cross the border are successful by the INS's own figures, it makes little sense to have the vast majority of INS personnel stationed there. Rather, a significant portion of those new agents should be spread among interior INS offices.

Second, there is a proposal to cross-deputize local police officers as INS officers. Let me emphasize that the Salt Lake County Commission does not desire the authority to arrest individuals for being here illegally. Rather, we ask that when an individual is brought to the jail on a criminal charge and it is determined that he is an undocumented immigrant, we desire the authority to then assist the INS in transporting that person across state lines to an INS holding facility in Denver or Las Vegas. This will decrease the number of cells occupied by undocumented immigrants and allow us to retain and prosecute more of our local criminals.

Third, the U.S. Senate's Committee on Appropriations has reported out the fiscal 1999 funding bill for the U.S. Justice Department, in which it was noted that a temporary holding facility for INS detainees should be constructed in Salt Lake City. Of the recommendations you will hear today this is the most critical. The INS desperately needs a place in the Salt Lake City area in which it can hold undocumented immigrants for a few days until arrangements can be made for their removal. This facility must be built and anything you can do to ensure that happens will be most appreciated. Again, this will reserve limited jail space for the detention and prosecution of our own criminals.

Fourth, please extend the COPS grant to include jail correctional officers. Thus far, the COPS grant has provided many new officers who are on the street arresting criminals and bringing them to jail where the incarcerating authority (be it a county or a city) does not have the staff to process them. The fact that we are being inundated with criminal undocumented immigrants only exacerbates the problem. Please give consideration to this request.

In closing, please understand that we are grateful for all that you have done and we know that you have worked hard to ensure that Utah has the resources necessary to deal with what has become our number one crime problem. The public is well aware of this issue and is demanding action. We simply cannot accept open air drug markets and gun battles in our neighborhoods. The federal government must step up and fulfill its responsibility to address this most pressing problem in our community.

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[The following testimony was given by David Schwendiman, the United States Attorney for the District of Utah.]

The goal of the Utah Federal Immigration Prosecution Project (FIPP) is to bring federal resources to bear on the part of the crime problem in Utah that can be traced to those who come to the United States illegally, commit serious crimes, are convicted and deported as a result, then come to Utah and continue criminal careers that threaten public safety.

The project was conceived as a way to interrupt the illegal reentry cycle that seems, at least, to be the norm for illegal immigrants convicted locally of serious offenses. Prosecuting qualified offenders for violations of 8 U.S.C.1326(b) and enhancing their sentences by applying 8 U.S.C.1326(b)(2), the aggravated felony reentry provision, exposes them to up to twenty years in federal prison. Successful prosecutions eliminate them as recurring threats to public safety whether in Utah or elsewhere. Once they are in federal prison they are no longer a burden on our overtaxed local jails and prisons.

The number of defendants who have been prosecuted is low in relation to the number of possible defendants who have been or who are now in state and local custody.

The volume we are doing is a window on the breadth of the problem, but a look at a specific case or two will give you a better feel for how serious the problem is. Keep in mind that these defendants are not people who came to Utah to make a better life for themselves or their families by working tough, menial jobs in the service, agricultural or tourist industries, although they may have followed or traveled to Utah with those who did. Instead, they are hardened, violent, dangerous criminals who are as great a threat to the hardworking, legal immigrant as they are to you and me.

One of our most recent cases involved a 36-year old Mexican national who was sentenced on July 1 to 115 months in federal prison. The defendant has a long criminal history in the United States including California convictions for possession of stolen property, battery on a peace officer, driving under the influence of alcohol, resisting arrest, hit and run resulting in death, and manslaughter; illegal re-entry of a deported alien in Arizona; and two driving under the influence arrests and a reckless driving charge in Utah. He was deported to Mexico twice; once from California and again from Arizona. He came to our attention while he was serving a 180-day sentence in the Salt Lake County jail for driving under the influence.

A second defendant was taken into our custody by the Service in Ogden last summer. He was sentenced in November 1997 to 77 months in federal prison. He had been deported from the United States five times before he was caught in Utah. In just a five-month period in late 1991 and early 1992, the man was deported three times. His immigration history shows that he was deported from California on September 2, 1998; Portland, Oregon, on August 28, 1991; El Paso, Texas, on October 28, 1991, and January 16, 1992; from California again on May 28, 1994; and from Washington State on September 8, 1995, and April 26, 1996. While he was in the United States between deportations, he was convicted of a variety of offenses, including delivery of a controlled substance (cocaine), theft, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and assault, all in Oregon; rape in California; assault and theft in Texas; and manufacturing or delivering of a controlled substance (cocaine) in Washington.

In May this year, another defendant was given an 84-month sentence for violating 1326(b)(2). He was first deported from California on January 27, 1995, after serving a four year prison term. He was deported again on January 22, 1997, once more from California. His criminal record includes several California narcotics convictions. In 1989, he was arrested with twenty-one rocks of cocaine in his possession. He was arrested on another occasion selling cocaine to an undercover police officer. When he was arrested in 1992 for public intoxication, officers found sixteen pieces of rock cocaine inside a Crazy Glue container in his pocket. Before he came to our attention he had already served twenty four months in federal prison after being convicted in California in April 1995 for entering the country illegally. Almost a year to the day after his January 1997 deportation this defendant was arrested in Salt Lake City selling a twist of heroin to an undercover narcotics officer near Pioneer Park. He came to our attention a few days later while he was in the Salt Lake County Jail serving an 80 day sentence on the narcotics charge.

In March, a 30-year-old defendant was sentenced to 77 months in federal prison for violating 1326(b)(2). The defendant has an extensive criminal record in California, including several convictions for grand theft auto, possession of a controlled substance, and burglary. He was deported to Mexico from California on February 5, 1994. In June 1994, apparently just months after a second deportation, he was in court facing assault charges in Utah. In 1995, he was arrested near Perry, Utah, and charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was deported to Mexico from Nogales, Arizona, on May 20, 1996. On June 17, 1996, less than a month later, he was arrested for theft and possession of drug paraphernalia in Murray, Utah. He came to our attention last September while he was serving a one-to-fifteen year sentence in the Utah State Prison for possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute.

We don't know really why these people came to Utah. We have interviewed some of our defendants in an effort to learn more about why they chose to come to here. What little we do know right now, however, suggests many came to Utah because they believed, with some justification, that if they were caught selling narcotics, for example, they might be prosecuted, but rather than keep them in custody and take up precious jail space, local authorities would give them minimal sentences and simply deliver them to the Service for deportation. Once deported, they could quickly and safely return to the United States using another identity and pick up where they left off without more than a few days or weeks interruption. Economically it was worth the risk. Others came to Utah because they could hide within the ethnic gangs that have grown up in some of the neighborhoods along the Wasatch Front. Still others came to Utah because they believed law enforcement is overwhelmed by the immigration problem and has neither the will nor the resources to be much of a threat to them. They were willing to risk detection and arrest because the chances of either happening to them were low and the consequence minimal. Some came to Utah because they were part of organized drug trafficking enterprises exploiting the market for illegal narcotics that exists in the District. The chance they were willing to take to make a great deal of money outweighed their fear of being caught and prosecuted.

As I mentioned earlier, the idea behind the District's immigration prosecution project was not to single out an ethnic or racial group or a single nationality for special treatment. The goal was to help ensure public safety by identifying, prosecuting and incarcerating people who pose a significant threat to the peace and well-being of the community. Since the beginning of the project the District has been sensitive to the concerns of the Hispanic community, because, candidly, the overwhelming majority of defendants are Mexican nationals. I understand the suspicion and fear that follow any concentrated effort to address immigration problems, especially when it involves identifying and prosecuting those suspected of being in the United States illegally. As a consequence, as United States Attorney, I have sought out leaders in the Mexican and Mexican-American communities and leaders in the Hispanic community to explain the program and field questions about what we are trying to do and calm the fears of citizens and legal immigrants that they will be unfairly or mistakenly caught up in our project or harassed as a result. Our criminal Chief, Paul Warner, and I speak regularly with Ms. Anacelia Perez de Meyer, the Mexican Consul, to make sure she is fully informed regarding the program. I am proud to report that the District has received unqualified support for its program from these communities and their representatives.

The project so far is a success. I am certain that we have only scratched the surface when it comes to the number of potential aggravated felony reentry defendants that reside in the Prison, in jails in Utah, and in our communities. The threats these people pose makes finding them, prosecuting them, convicting them, and then sentencing them in ways that prevent them from returning to this or another state an important and worthwhile use of the resources that have been made available to us to use for that purpose.

In order to sustain what we have started, however, several things must occur.

We must be able to convert our Special Assistant United States Attorney and our three temporary Assistant U. S. Attorneys to permanent positions.

The IDENT system of fingerprint identification successfully used by the Service in other locations to quickly determine alien status and immigration history must be installed at as many strategic points in Utah as possible to allow the early and accurate identification of potential aggravated felony reentry defendants who are in the state criminal justice system. The expanded use of IDENT will eliminate the problems, delays and missed opportunities caused by suspects who give false identities when they enter the system.

The Memorandum of Understanding between local law enforcement and the Service must be acted upon quickly so that officers can be carefully selected, properly trained and then rapidly deployed to assist the Service in identifying criminal aliens, aggravated felons and candidates for prosecution as aggravated felon reentries.

As an adjunct to the project it is essential that the Service continue to process for deportation convicted felons and aggravated felons who are not eligible for prosecution as aggravated felon reentries.

There must be support for contracting for and building additional jail space in the District, both to house defendants being prosecuted federally and for keeping those the Service must detain in order to process them for deportation. Nearly all of the federal detainees now awaiting trial, sentencing or designation in the jails in use by the District, including those in Salt Lake County, Davis County, Tooele County, and Wasatch County, and in Bannock County and the Bingham County in Idaho, are there because of the District's federal immigration prosecution project. Imaginative management of the problem created by the limited space available to house federal detainees is working, but it cannot succeed over time in the face of the increased pressure that will result from more and more defendants being fed into the system by the project, people for whom release is not an alternative. The jail space issue is not a purely federal problem. The federal need for jail space is a direct result of what the Service and the United States Attorneys Office are doing to help the community address a very serious public safety issue. We need local and national understanding, support and assistance to be able to continue that effort.

The Service must provide the enforcement agents necessary to fully implement the project as it was envisioned at the time of the Crime Summit. The Interior Enforcement Strategy drafted by the Service encourages coordination with United States Attorneys to build a 'national prosecution program for criminal alien reentry after removal.' In Utah, the program is already in place. The best way to achieve the Service's goals and objectives for interior enforcement in Utah is to fully staff and support the District's federal immigration prosecution project.

A defendant who was recently interviewed told us he came to Utah because he was told by people in Mexico that things were tougher in Utah, but if he laid low for a year he could come here without worry. He was told the authorities in Utah would eventually give up. The whole project would die in a year, they said. I don't want that prediction to come true. We need your help if that is to be kept from happening.

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