Illegal Immigrants Filling Jails

Karen Welsh, Carolina Journal, July 27, 2006

Raleigh—County jails throughout North Carolina are stressed to the limit with illegal immigrants, law-enforcement officials say.

With the lack of immigration control to deal with the estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants residing in the state, it probably won’t be getting better anytime soon.

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Randy Jones, director of public information for the Alamance County Sheriff’s Department, said about 40 percent of the inmates in the county’s jail are Hispanics and most of those have illegally entered the country.

“It’s draining the system, and you’re looking at disaster,” he said. “Some of the public is just coming to grips with (illegal immigrants). Right now, there’s not a way to solve the problem until the government solves the problem. The issue needs to be addressed on both the federal and state level.”

It’s not racial discrimination, as some have feared, but cultural differences that are putting most of the illegal immigrants behind bars.

The arrests are legitimate, Jones said, and arise mostly from drug trafficking or driving under the influence of alcohol in Alamance County. DUI is the number one killer of Hispanic males in the state, he said.

“There are cultural differences,” he said. “They drink and drive. It’s culturally acceptable for them to do that. When we bring them in, they are usually double the legal limit. But law-enforcement officers have been called racist and have been accused of singling out Hispanics. Now the statistics are showing we were probably right from the onset—law-enforcement-wise.”

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A growing wave of gang-related violence, including murders and armed robberies, is also cropping up in rural counties. In an ABC News report, Sheriff Jimmy Thornton said Sampson County is trying to deal with a surge of Hispanic gangs.

“They think they can set up their gangs in these rural areas and really get by with more,” he said. “They don’t think that the small-town departments have the sophistication and the ability or the personnel to handle what they’re coming in here with.”

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Another problem plaguing jails throughout the state are repeat offenders, who are virtually given a “get out of jail free” card when they are deported. It doesn’t matter whether they were apprehended for serious or violent crimes, U.S. officials drop the charges and send them back to their own country. It’s usually only a matter of days before they cross the border back into the United States again under a different name, officials said.

Julia Rush, director of communications for the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Department, estimated that illegal immigrants comprise 15 percent of the county’s inmate population. Some repeat offenders have been jailed as many as 22 times, she said.

Jim Kouri, the fifth vice president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police and a writer for New Media Alliance, said this is not uncommon. Two-thirds of illegal immigrants across the country have been arrested before and 61 percent have been convicted of crimes at least once, he said.

“In the population study of a sample of 55,322 illegal aliens, researchers found that they were arrested at least a total of 459,614 times,” Kouri wrote, “averaging about eight arrests per illegal alien.”

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