by Steve Miller
copyright © 1996, Electric Nevada
|It hasn't been politically correct for them to say it, but local law enforcement people are clear that illegal Hispanic immigrants are involved in a big proportion of Reno's most high-profile violent crimes.|
| One recent example in the news
is Saul Pina, the 16-year-old charged with raping a
16-year-old girl on the Sparks High campus May 8.
Another is Juan Castillo, the young gunman charged with shooting a 12-year-old girl last year in Horseman's Park.
But even local law enforcement professionals have been surprised by the number of illegals being turned up by a new joint program between the Reno Police Department and the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service.
"There's no question, especially in the street crime that we deal with," says Reno Police Chief Jim Weston, that "there's a large population of illegal aliens involved with the local youth gangs.
"It's a much greater number than we anticipated."
Since last August, when the joint program began, he said, about 120 Reno gang members have been deported back to their native countries. All of them were 18 or older and many were some of the most violent criminals in the area.
"Actually our criminal justice systems isn't as effective as the deportation process, in keeping some of these kids out of the [Reno] community or off the streets," said Weston, adding he believes the new program has had a large impact, locally.
Weston took pains to characterize the program as not one "that targets minorities or Hispanics. It's just using any tool that's available to get the criminal gang members out of town. And it's been one of the more effective ones we have found."
J. T. Watson, officer in charge at the local Immigration and Naturalization Service office, told Electric Nevada that he had begun advocating something similar to the current program shortly after his posting to Reno in mid-1993.
It took a while for the idea to gain support, he indicated, because back then "the gang problem wasn't anywhere near as bad as it's gotten to be."
Another reason for the reluctance, he said, was "this feeling that if you get the Immigration Service involved, people in the Hispanic community will just be quiet, they won't deal with you, they won't call the police for help and so forth. And that's a valid concern.
"I would never want to diminish that concern," continued Watson, "but I think we've all seen now [that] the Hispanics are the ones getting preyed upon ... and if we're removing those people who are doing that ... it helps the Hispanic community probably more than any other."
Not only are many of the most violent gang members Hispanic, he said, but two of the major Reno gangs are Hispanic gangs.
Thus the consensus for the joint program that Reno police and the INS came up with last August. The program involves the assignment by the INS of local special agents to ride and work with the Reno Police Department's Community Action Team, which works to suppress violent gangs.
"As you might well expect, the P.D. has a very good grasp on who are and who are not gang members," said Watson, adding that "the Community Action Team [does] more than just arrest gang members -- they also work on community activities and so forth. It's a complete and full approach to the problem."
That is why, he indicated, the INS takes its lead from the Reno police when the combined Reno police-INS teams confront Hispanic gang members.
Usually that involves, he said, approaching "those individuals that, for whatever reason, the CAT team wants us to talk to, to deal with, et cetera."
The procedure is for the INS agents talk to the identified individuals, going through the normal INS procedures to determine whether or not the individuals are aliens, and whether or not they are deportable from the United States.
"Based upon what we find from that, we have one or more courses of action that we can take," said Watson, indicating it depends on whether the gang members have been arrested or not.
In the case of gang members who have not actually been arrested but do turn out to be here illegally, the deportation process proceeds normally.
But "in many cases, the time we talk to the gang members is after they have been arrested. In [the case of] those individuals, we will not complete our processing until they're done with the state.
"We have always worked in the criminal arena after people have been arrested and convicted," said Watson, "and so [with] those gang members who have been arrested and either
convicted or are awaiting trial, we go ahead
and start our process.
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