Monday, July 19, 2010

Duval sheriff's program hits illegal immigration

Since the program began, 810 people have been processed to be forcibly returned to their native countries, Sheriff's Office statistics show.

About 500 of them have been already been fast-tracked home, after serving penance for whatever crime landed them in jail and getting released to immigration agents. The rest are behind bars as their families scramble to file paperwork on their behalf in hopes of obtaining relief from the courts.

A third of the detainees were jailed on felony charges, including murder, robbery, sex crimes and firearms offenses. But the rest were held for misdemeanors - with driving without a license accounting for 33 percent of those arrests.

Rutherford defended the program, saying anyone arrested on a misdemeanor and sent on to immigration agents had a criminal history. Of the 1,400-plus illegal immigrants screened since 2008, 516 people with no previous criminal history were allowed to leave the jail, records show.

Sheriff John Rutherford started the little-known effort in 2008, saying he wanted to join the fight against illegal immigration, but sidestep the controversy the program has stirred in other cities.

He said he intended to target only repeat offenders or those deemed a public safety risk.

"This was not a program that was going to be used to just deport people out of Jacksonville," he said. "But I wanted to make it very clear that if you were violent in this community, or committing crimes in this community, we were going to do anything we could to deport you out of this community."

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