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Published Monday, January 29, 2007 10:27 PM PST
Immigration charges up in January
Costa Mesa jail screenings result in nearly 24% more violations since December.
By Michael Alexander and Alicia Robinson

COSTA MESA — The second month of federal immigration screenings at the Costa Mesa jail is not quite over, and authorities have charged nearly 24% more people with immigration violations than they did in the first month, Costa Mesa Police Department statistics show.

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent began working at the Costa Mesa jail Dec. 4 to check the immigration status of people booked there.

Immigration officials said earlier this month that they placed detainers on 46 people booked at the jail between Dec. 4 and Dec. 31, and the police department's arrest logs show 57 people had immigration detainers placed on them between Jan. 1 and Jan. 28.

Jim Hayes, Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Los Angeles field office director, has explained a detainer is placed on someone who officials believe has violated immigration law.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials were not available Monday to comment on the January statistics.

Of the people who had immigration holds placed on them in January, 26 people were initially arrested for misdemeanors, 19 were arrested for felonies and 11 had previous arrest warrants.

Some of the felony arrests were for serious crimes, including three for strong-arm robbery, and several for drug possession and auto theft.

One man was arrested after police tried to cite him for jaywalking and he didn't have identification, Costa Mesa police said. Jaywalking is an infraction, and infractions normally result in a ticket rather than an arrest.

While it only happens rarely, a simple infraction can lead to an arrest, Costa Mesa Police Sgt. Bob Ciszek said. California penal code allows the police to take someone into custody for two hours if, once cited, they fail to prove their identity. He said it appeared that during those two hours, the suspected jaywalker was interviewed by the immigration agent and received an immigration hold.

Advocacy groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund are closely following Costa Mesa's immigration arrests, but officials with those groups said it's too early to draw conclusions.

"We've gotten complaints and expressions of concern about what's going on in the jail, and we're definitely investigating," ACLU Orange County Director Hector Villagra said, but he added, "I don't think you can say anything meaningful about two months' worth of data."

Villagra said his group is concerned that police officers might use the most minor infractions as reasons to bring people in, specifically so they can be questioned about their immigration status.

"When the proposal was initially put on the table by the mayor [in 2005], one of the justifications was to go after violent criminals, and from the newspaper reports that have been put out there's some question as to whether minor infractions are leading to immigration review," Villagra said.