Several “lawful permanent residents”—non-citizens allowed to live and work in the country—have been detained through new immigration-enforcement programs in Orange County.
Like illegal immigrants, “green card” holders such as Lee have long faced local immigration checks. But the recent placement of a federal agent in Costa Mesa’s jail, as well as federal training of deputies in the county lock-up, has widened the net considerably.
In 2005, when part-time federal agents staffed the county jail, only about 20 percent of foreign-born inmates were screened. Now, with cross-trained deputies, virtually all are interviewed.
In Costa Mesa, police previously referred 20 to 30 inmates a month for immigration checks. Since December, a federal agent has flagged an average of 44 people a month for immigration violations.
The vast majority of detentions involve Latino illegal immigrants. Authorities don’t track the number of cases involving lawful residents, but at the county level, natives of Egypt, Germany, Iran, Romania, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam have been flagged.
In Costa Mesa, federal officials confirmed three cases involving legal residents—a Ukrainian man from Mission Viejo who faces removal if convicted of burglary, a Filipino man from Spring Valley who could be deported for grand theft and receiving stolen property, and Lee.
Federal legislation and case law outline offenses that can lead to deportation. Violent felonies qualify, as do most drug crimes and certain offenses involving dishonesty, such as theft. Factors such as community ties and length of stay in the country—about 28 years, in Lee’s case—are irrelevant in deportation proceedings.
Lawful residents most often come to the U.S. through family ties. Lee, sponsored by her father, came in 1979.
Besides being subject to removal, lawful residents forgo certain rights, such as voting in state and national elections. They may eschew citizenship for a variety of reasons.
“It’s unique to the individual,” Kice said. “Some people are very nationalistic.… You essentially renounce your allegiance to your native country.”
Lee forsook citizenship because, she said, it meant relinquishing British citizenship.