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Lake Co. sheriff says 21.5% of jail inmates illegal immigrants
By Tony Gordon | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 9/18/2008 1:19 PM | Updated: 9/18/2008 1:19 PM

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A recent audit of the Lake County jail found that 21.5 percent of the prisoners were in this country illegally, Sheriff Mark Curran said Thursday.

Renewing his call for stepped-up deportation of illegal immigrants who commit crimes, Curran said they are charged with half of the 14 murders in the county so far this year.

"You cannot fight for crime victims and ignore the illegal immigration problem," Curran said. "You cannot pretend to care about all the children that die from gang and gun violence and ignore the illegal immigration problem."

Curran said the audit was done Aug. 6 by agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It found that 137 of the 637 jail inmates on that day were born in other countries.

Of those, Curran said, 122 had questionable or illegal entry status, and ICE ultimately issued orders for 75 to face deportation proceedings once their criminal cases had been concluded and their sentences served.

Curran said getting rid of the 21.5 percent of the inmates who are illegal could represent a $4 million reduction in the jail's current operating budget of $18.9 million.

He used the numbers to explain his application last year for certification of corrections officers to work with ICE in speeding the deportation of illegal immigrants convicted of crimes.

Curran stressed that his office was not conducting roundups of immigrants and was only seeking to identify those here illegally once they come into the criminal justice system.

He was critical of politicians at the state and local level he said are not doing enough to address the issue.

"The City of Chicago as well as the State of Illinois have shown little interest in cooperating with ICE," Curran said. "Choosing instead to ignore the problem or to pander to special interest groups or their sympathizers."

He said the state has been sued by the Department of Homeland Security for failure to comply with a system that allows employers to verify the immigration status of employees.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform estimates that illegal immigrants cost Illinois taxpayers $3.5 billion each year in education, health care and other government services.

State's Attorney Michael Waller and County Board Chairman Suzi Schmidt praised Curran at the news conference for his efforts to deport criminals.

"The people of Lake County should not have to pay this cost," Schmidt said. "If you are here illegally, you should go back to where you came from.

Rosanna Pulido of American Hispanics Against Illegal Immigration said it is not racist to favor deportation of those convicted of crimes.

"Contrary to popular belief, a sizable number of Latinos are opposed to illegal immigration," Pulido said. "With 20 million people living outside the law, we are all at risk."

Curran said it could be another two years before his office is certified under the ICE program.