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Early Success Means More Work Needs to Be Done


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When the amnesty bill died in the U.S. Senate last year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) finally realized the American people demand enforcement of our immigration laws without amnesty as a prerequisite to any guest worker program.

ICE began arresting illegal immigrants working at airports, nuclear power plants and military bases, then began workplace enforcement in other industries.

But perhaps the most important ramp-up of enforcement, in terms of day-to-day security for citizens and legal residents, was screening for criminal illegal immigrants at local jails.

Ventura County has taken the lead in that and is fast becoming the model for local and federal cooperation.

In the wake of the failed amnesty bill, ICE last summer increased the number of agents assigned to the Ventura County jail from one to four. A fifth was added last fall.

The five agents now provide full coverage at the jail five days a week.

In addition, a 24/7 hotline has been established to allow over-the-phone screening during the hours ICE agents aren't on site.

The results have been dramatic.

In the two-month period after ICE presence was increased, the number of inmates given immigration detainers—meaning they will be turned over to ICE once their criminal cases and any jail time have concluded—more than doubled from the year before.

In addition, of those identified as foreign-born and screened at the jail last July and August, 79 percent were found to be illegal or criminal immigrants who were subject to deportation.

This is not a new program. The jail screening program was launched in Ventura County in 1997 under a provision I authored in the 1996 comprehensive immigration bill. In 1998, I authored the law that expanded the program to 100 U.S. jails. But despite its support in Congress, successive administrations refused to back it.

Today, even ICE touts the program's success. In 2006, ICE identified 64,000 illegal immigrants in U.S. jails and prisons, most of whom were deported.

This year, ICE expects to identify and deport more than 200,000 criminal illegal immigrants.

Of course, deporting criminal illegal immigrants is only part of the solution. Once we send them home, we must ensure they don't return.

Unfortunately, they often do.

Rafael Resendez-Ramirez, known as the serial Railway Killer, slipped across the border several times to commit murder before being caught. He had been deported at least three times.

Manuel Batres was also detained and released by immigration agents who did not learn of his criminal history. He subsequently reentered the country and raped two nuns and then murdered one of them in Oregon.

There are many more examples. Criminal illegal immigrants know the sheer numbers of illegal immigrants crossing into the United States provides them cover. Terrorists know it, too.

So, while there have been successes, we've only begun to turn the tide. I, along with like-minded congressional colleagues, intend to keep up the pressure until it's no longer attractive to come to the United States illegally.

Then, we can look at other programs.

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