Arrests of illegal immigrants drop after deportations attract large protests and heavy media coverage

May 15, 2009

Amid uproar, fewer are being detained in Irving
By Patrick McGee
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Wednesday, October 2, 2007

An average of 67 people a week were turned over to the feds last month versus 39 a week so far this month.

The number of suspected illegal immigrants detained in the Irving Jail has dropped by more than 40 percent since intense media attention and protests erupted last month over the city’s collaboration with federal immigration authorities.

Illegal immigrants are likely staying out of Irving or keeping low profiles to avoid attention by police, experts and illegal immigrants said. Immigrant advocates said their demonstrations helped spread the word about the city’s efforts.

Irving screens everyone booked into its jail and refers suspected illegal immigrants to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. More than 1,700 suspected illegal immigrants have been turned over to ICE since Irving police started the Criminal Alien Program in September 2006.

This month, 117 people in the Irving Jail were turned over to ICE or were scheduled to be turned over as of Monday. Last month, 267 people were turned over. That’s an average of 67 people a week in September versus 39 a week in October.

The totals in July and August were 256 and 253, respectively.

Mayor: No policy change

Police officials declined to comment. Mayor Herbert Gears said the Police Department’s policy has not changed.

“It looks as though people’s behavior patterns have changed to some degree,” Gears said. “Eventually, the numbers would naturally come down.”

Mexican Consul General Enrique Hubbard Urrea said the numbers also might have dropped because police are more careful not to racially profile Hispanics.

“We had a lot of complaints at the beginning of what sounded like racial profiling. I don’t have any way to prove that’s what happened,” he said. “But those kind of complaints have dropped.”

Hubbard, who heads the Dallas-based consulate, raised the alarm about Irving and possible racial profiling last month when he noticed that many Mexican nationals were turning up in ICE’s detention center. Consular officials have the right to speak with their citizens held in American jails.

Hispanic activists organized anti-deportation protests, which hundreds of area residents attended. The controversy attracted heavy media coverage, including on CNN and Good Morning America.

Activist Carlos Quintanilla, said the demonstrations he helped organize have prompted people to be more careful to avoid arrest and have forced police to back off some.

“I think the city of Irving has somewhat diminished its deportations,” Quintanilla said. “That doesn’t mean we’re happy with the deportations. We want zero deportations, and we want an end to the Criminal Alien Program. We will continue to keep pressuring until it’s down to zero or a much smaller number that is acceptable.”

Quintanilla said he is planning a boycott of Irving businesses for Nov. 15.

A low profile

Alejandro del Carmen, chairman of the criminology department at the University of Texas at Arlington, said the media attention probably contributed to the drop. He said Irving’s policy has not controlled illegal immigration but probably pushed it to other cities.

“It may very well be that a lot of Hispanics or particularly illegal aliens are avoiding entering, living or being associated with the city of Irving,” he said.

An illegal immigrant, who spoke on the condition that his last name not be published, said he is now careful to avoid police when he travels from his apartment to his job, both in Irving.

“I feel nervous because I feel like they’re going to stop me,” said Jesus, 21, originally from El Salvador.

He said his brother-in-law has become so jumpy that he often asks to be let out of the car before they enter the apartment parking lot. He then goes in a side entrance on foot to avoid being seen by a police officer.

Hubbard said he wants to have a daylong consulate event in Irving next month to issue identification cards to Mexicans.

Hubbard said he hopes the cards will allow people to avoid arrest for failure to identify themselves during traffic stops and other stops.

Gears has said the ID cards might help people identify themselves but will not exempt them from any arrestable offense.