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INS is cracking down on criminal immigrants

U.S. agents are rounding up and deporting dozens of foreigners who are legal residents of the United States but have felony convictions, officials said Friday.

Under a law passed earlier this year, so-called resident aliens with felony convictions can be deported. Federal agents on the first major roundup seized 43 people in Texas' border city of El Paso over a two-week period ending Thursday."These are serious felons and they are a threat to our society," said Roberto Saenz, assistant district director of investigations for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in El Paso.

He said other roundups were being conducted throughout the country, and they would continue on a monthly basis in El Paso.

Saenz said a new immigration law that went into effect in April allows the INS to deport resident aliens - who are not U.S. citizens - if they have been convicted of a felony, regardless of when the crime was committed.

"In the past, those people could walk and the INS couldn't touch them," he said. "Under the new law we can deport these individuals . . . We're doing it across the country."

He said agents were focusing their raids on "career criminals and people who are serious threats," rather than people who were convicted years ago and have been clean since.

But a local human rights group attacked the operation.

"It's a ridiculous situation. A lot of them were convicted of minor crimes," said Suzan Kern, president of the Border Rights Coalition. "Nothing in the law allows them any remedy. They are just kicked out."

A list of those deported in the El Paso raids showed all were Mexicans with convictions for crimes ranging from drugs possession and auto theft to drug trafficking, attempted murder, domestic violence and sexual abuse of a minor.

None of the felony convictions was more than three years old.

INS officials said there are thousands of legal residents with felony convictions in the United States.

"The message is, we welcome you into this country but if you commit a serious felony you will lose that privilege," Saenz said.

Kern said she knew of one case where two men were deported for earlier drug possession convictions even though they had families here and their children were U.S. citizens.

Saenz said efforts were under way to educate law enforcement agencies about the new law so convicts would not be allowed to walk free once they had served their time.