06/11/2010 08:57 PM
By: Lily Jamali
As Arizona's new immigration gains widespread attention, teams of immigration officers hit New York City's streets every day to look for illegal immigrants with criminal records, and some question whether the teams' time is being well-spent. NY1's Lily Jamali filed the following report.
Every day, immigration officers in six Fugitive Operations Teams work in and around the city, looking for illegal immigrants who've been ordered to leave the United States but who continue to live here.
When NY1 recently followed one team, it started in East New York, Brooklyn, at the home of Lloyd Hopkins, a Jamaican immigrant who was ordered deported two years ago. Officers have tracked him off and on for a few weeks. Intelligence from parking tickets helped them zero in on where he lives.
In the 1980s, Hopkins pleaded guilty once to marijuana possession and another time to weapons possession and received a $100 fine for the drugs and five years' probation for the loaded firearm.
"I had a business in the '80s. I was scared," says Hopkins. "I carried the firearm to protect myself, only to protect and my family."
Hopkins has not been in trouble since the mid-1990s, when was he caught driving without a license. An immigration judge ordered him to leave two years ago after he missed a hearing.
Fugitive Operations teams are supposed to track down dangerous immigrants, but critics charge there is too much focus on people like Hopkins, with old or minor convictions.
Governor David Paterson recently created a panel that considers pardons for legal immigrants with old and minor convictions to prevent their deportation.
The panel followed Arizona's controversial new law giving police broad power to check people's immigration status. However, Paterson's initiative does not apply in Hopkins's case, since the immigrant already had a deportation order.
ICE officials say it is their job to track down anyone in that category.
"If you allow people to overstay their visa and you know it, and you don't do anything about it, there's no integrity to your immigration system," says Darren Williams, the supervisor for the Fugitive Operations Team.
Hopkins says he wishes there were more leniency.
"It is not fair. They should look to see how our life is -- have you made change or it is the same behavior," says Hopkins.
Hopkins says he will try his best to stay here, but for now it appears he will be on his way back to Jamaica before long.