New policy for undocumented immigrants?

April 2, 2009 4:56:23 PM PDT
The new DA says enough is enough. It's time to close the doors on deals for illegal immigrants who get arrested. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

At this point, it's said to be a work in progress. The new policy under consideration would force undocumented immigrants to tell the truth about how they got to the United States. If they're not here legally, there may be no plea deal for them. It's a plan that's raising eyebrows before the DA even signs off on it.

The way the system works now is that a defendant can be offered a plea bargain and depending on the charge and if it's a first time offense, that could include probation if a judge agrees. But what if that defendant is an illegal immigrant? Things may be changing in the Harris County DA's office.

Here's what the district attorney is willing to say for now.

"The issue of unlawful foreign national criminals is being reviewed and discussed within the office," said Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos. "When the analysis is complete and a decision made, it will be announced."

Behind the scenes, though, it's said a new plea agreement form is being drafted in which defendants would have to swear they're in the U.S. legally to be recommended for probation by prosecutors or the deal would be off. And if they lie, they could face a felony perjury charge, which could mean prison time.

"What's the intent, to put more people in jail?" asked LULAC member and attorney Enrique Dovalina. "It's gonna cost a lot of money to run the jail. It's gonna cost money to clog up the courts."

Mark Bennett is president of the Harris County Criminal Trial Lawyers and posted the rumors of a probation policy change on his blog.

"It's going to result in more people being deported, but as far as the criminal justice system goes, we don't know what the next cascade of things that's going to happen will be," he said. "After the dockets get crowded and the jail gets crowded, who knows how that's going to reverberate through the system."

No probation could force more trials, which means more money for court appointed attorneys and in the end, more taxpayer money. It could perhaps also take Harris County into federal court.

"It's not up to the DA's office in Harris County to decide what their punishment should be if it's not the same as every other person setting foot in that court," said KTRK legal analyst Joel Androphy.

A spokesperson for Immigration and Customs enforcement told us that the district attorney's office is in charge of its own policies. In the past five months, nearly 8,000 illegal immigrants have been deported from the Houston region.

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