A spot check by federal agents has identified 59 street gang members in Southern California jails who are illegal immigrants subject to deportation
The initial identification of deportable gang members came during a first-of-its-kind screening of a portion of jail inmates last month.
The review will continue, and officials expect during the first year to identify 700 to 800 gang members who are illegal immigrants, according to Jim Hayes, director of the Los Angeles field office for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The results so far have some officials convinced that border enforcement needs to be a big part of combating the gang problem.
"We play a vital role with respect to foreign nationals who are in gangs here," Hayes said.
The focus on immigration status comes as the city of Los Angeles is calling on federal agencies to help it crack down in response to last year's 15.7% increase in gang crime.
Some say it also shows the need for agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department, to loosen policies that generally prohibit officers from asking about the immigration status of anyone they question.
"It helps to show that cooperation between the LAPD and immigration officials should help reduce gang violence" if a suspect is ultimately deported, said Paul Orfanedes, litigation director for Judicial Watch.
The Washington, D.C.-based group has sued the LAPD to overturn Special Order 40, the rule that prohibits officers from asking about immigration status, arguing that the department is required to enforce all laws.
The policy has been loosened slightly, allowing gang officers to ask about the immigration status of suspects only when they recognize them as having been previously deported.
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