Sunday, August 28, 2011

Arrested dozens of times and still in the US

Diones Graciano-Navarro has been arrested at least 40 times in four states.

His rap sheet had humble beginnings with charges of loitering in New York City in 1975. In New Jersey, he graduated to fraud. By 1988, he was in California. He was charged with obtaining money by fraud or trickery. Later came cocaine possession.

The Dominican Republic native was deported twice. But he slipped back into the U.S., settling in North Texas, where in 2004 he started collecting DWI and marijuana possession charges.

Almost half of the nearly 393,000 immigrants detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement who were deported last fiscal year had criminal records. But Graciano-Navarro, 63, is not the best poster child for the Obama administration's recent victory laps over increased deportation of criminal aliens who shouldn't have been in the U.S. in the first place.

Instead, the Graciano-Navarro case highlights the difficulty of keeping "crimmigrants" out of the country. It took decades for the system to evolve, and Graciano-Navarro ran free in post-9/11 America for most of 10 years before the system caught up with him.

In March, he began serving a sentence at the Tarrant County jail for DWI. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security flagged him for special attention: Graciano-Navarro pleaded guilty to illegal re-entry after deportation, a federal charge sought against aliens who have re-entered the country illegally after previously being deported.

"This guy was arrested over and over and over again," said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C. "Those are victims who shouldn't have been victims. ... Having these different penalties is one way to make it less attractive for people to come back."

Graciano-Navarro is a career criminal, but also a petty criminal. His only felony arrest, for armed robbery, appears to have never resulted in charges.

Some say the tens of thousands of dollars or more and the time it takes for law enforcement officers to imprison criminals such as Graciano-Navarro may not be worth it.

He's now being held at a federal prison in Fort Worth pending sentencing. He and his attorney declined to comment.

Illegal re-entry after deportation is the second most common charge in federal prosecutions thus far this fiscal year, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research organization based at Syracuse University.

There were about 20,000 prosecutions in 2008, during the Bush administration. Through May of this fiscal year, there had already been 24,577 prosecutions.

Before the federal prosecutors take an illegal re-entry case, ICE checks an illegal immigrant's deportation and criminal history, and whether that person has already been ordered deported.

Before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, said Paul Zoltan, a Dallas-based immigration lawyer, "the link between the jails and DHS was pretty sloppy."

"It was far more frequent that someone might finish a criminal sentence or pay off a ticket ... and go unnoticed by immigration officials," he said.

After the terrorist attacks, immigration and law enforcement grew more aggressive about working together. Law enforcement agencies began to welcome more immigration officials inside jails.

The porous old system worked for Graciano-Navarro for decades, even the years after 9/11. Zoltan called his case bizarre and said he'd never heard of one quite like it.

Graciano-Navarro was admitted into the United States as a permanent resident in January 1968.

A criminal complaint filed against Graciano-Navarro for his illegal re-entry case details more than a dozen arrests in New Jersey, New York, California and Texas. It briefly notes there were at least 27 more between November 1970 and June 2006.

In addition to numerous fines, his 35-year arrest history includes charges of theft and bribery, gambling, fraud, marijuana and cocaine possession, and DWIs.

His sentences, at various times, included terms of two, eight, 10, 55, 69 and 91 days in jail. His probation was revoked once, and he was sentenced to two years in prison.

Carl Rusnok, ICE spokesman in Dallas, confirmed that he was deported twice, the first time on Dec. 6, 1995.

Shawn Smith is the federal prosecutor in Graciano-Navarro's illegal re-entry case. He would not comment on why Graciano-Navarro was deported because it is "not part of the public record in our case." But documents show that 11 months before he was deported, Graciano-Navarro was arrested for obtaining money by fraud/cards and conspiracy to commit a crime in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Federal authorities caught up with him again after he re-entered the country, and Graciano-Navarro was deported a second time on Jan. 28, 1998.

He soon returned illegally, this time to North Texas. In 1999 in Grand Prairie, he was arrested and later pleaded guilty to theft. In Arlington in 2004, he was arrested and convicted of marijuana possession.

In his major speech about comprehensive immigration reform in El Paso, President Barack Obama said the government is focusing on "violent offenders and people convicted of crimes" and not "folks who are just looking to scrape together an income."

And Rusnok said in an email that ICE "prioritizes efforts first on those serious criminal aliens."

Where a criminal immigrant such as Graciano-Navarro falls on that scale may be open for debate.

"They are missing the boat. ... Why aren't they catching the big fish?" Zoltan asked. "They haven't figured out how to prioritize these prosecutions."

But Aarti Kohli, director of immigration policy at the Warren Institute, said that some would question "whether we should be devoting our prosecutorial resources on someone like this who hasn't been convicted on any felonies."

When asked if ICE overlooked Graciano-Navarro's case, Smith would not comment. Rusnok said that until they dealt with Graciano-Navarro this year, ICE officials had not seen him since his last deportation in 1998.
Although Graciano-Navarro had been arrested in Tarrant County before, he may have not been detected by ICE. Rusnok said such cases depended "on the jail to forward to ICE its list of newly arrived foreign-born inmates," he said in an email.

But beginning in March, an ICE officer has been stationed at the Tarrant County jail, something more and more law enforcement agencies have been allowing since 9/11. These ICE officers identify detainees with criminal records and check their immigration statuses.

Nine years after the terrorist attacks, Graciano-Navarro was arrested on a DWI charge in Arlington. In April, he was serving a 20-day jail sentence when ICE officials fingerprinted him. His long criminal history and prior deportations surfaced.

Some jails still don't have an ICE officer keeping tabs on illegal aliens.

At $87 a day, Graciano-Navarro has cost the system more than $8,100 since he went to a federal detention center. That's a drop in the bucket compared with untold dollars spent on past prosecution efforts and jail time from his decades of crime.

He now faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for illegal re-entry at his sentencing scheduled for Oct. 28.

It took years for the system to catch Graciano-Navarro.
"He is one lucky guy," Zoltan said.

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