Simply being an illegal alien isn't always enough of a crime to warrant action by immigration authorities a point that was proven in Lawrence last week when federal authorities took no action to deport five Mexican citizens who were discovered here.
On Tuesday morning, Lawrence police officers responding to an auto burglary in the 700 block of East Ninth Street detained four Mexican youths and a 23-year-old Mexican man for questioning. Officers learned that the man and youths, all males, had nothing to do with the burglary but were illegal aliens who were trying to hop a train to Chicago.
Officers called the Immigration and Naturalization Service regional office in Kansas City, Mo., to report the incident. According to a police report, INS officials said they would take no action unless the aliens had committed a violent crime or a property crime.
Ron Sanders, a spokesman for the INS office, said that's standard procedure for immigration officials.
"TO BE HONEST with you, if an individual has not broken any laws and I'm talking about serious laws, not spitting on the street we don't respond," he said. "What you have to understand is that approximately 1 million people enter this country illegally every year. Obviously, you're not going to be able to move 1 million people back out, because of budgetary restrictions and lack of prison space."
The INS response left local police powerless to do anything except release the group. According to Lawrence police and INS officials, local officers do not have the statutory authority to arrest someone simply for being an illegal alien.
The boys and the man were not listed on national crime information records as having any outstanding criminal warrants.
Before they released the group, though, police contacted the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services and a Mexican consulate office for help.
They didn't get much.
ALTHOUGH THE youths were "underfed and coughing," according to the police report, SRS officials said they couldn't do anything because the boys weren't U.S. citizens. Two of the boys were 15 years old, one was 16 and the other was 17.
A man at the Mexican consulate, officers said, took down the information on the police report and said he would attempt to contact the youths' parents. The police report said the consulate offered to pay the boys' bus fare back to Mexico, but the boys refused the offer.
Police reports indicated that the boys had traveled from Chicago, where they had apparently been living, to Emporia. They had come to Lawrence from Emporia, and were in the 700 block of East Ninth planning to hop a train that would take them back to Chicago.
Chris Mulvenon, Lawrence police spokesman, said the officers were unsure how the group got to Emporia, or why they came to Lawrence.
LAWRENCE Police Chief Ron Olin had little to say about the response officers received from various officials. However, he said, he would discuss the case with SRS officials to help him determine what the police department's policy should be in future cases.
Sanders said the immigration service's response doesn't indicate that the INS is lax on illegal aliens.
He said the INS office has established three main priorities for the enforcement of immigration laws. The first, he said, is to root out illegal aliens from Jamaica who are responsible for cocaine activity in the Kansas City area.
The second priority, he said, is to deport illegal aliens who have criminal records or who have committed violent crimes or property crimes. The third, he said, is keying on businesses that hire illegal aliens and, by doing so, fill jobs that should go to American citizens.
THE INS HAS acted on two reports during the past two years that illegal aliens were working at local restaurants.
"Any law enforcement agency establishes priorities," Sanders said. "I'm sure your police department would like to catch everybody who isn't wearing seat belts, or is breaking the 65 mph speed limit. But we all know that's never going to happen."
Letting some illegal aliens go free, Sanders said, is a frustration that the INS has learned to take in stride.
`"We will not pull our people from those (priorities) and put them on reports of somebody walking down the street, so to speak," he said.