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INS reports Nebraska, Iowa arrests up 28 percent from last year

By Margery Beck
The Associated Press, October 12, 2000

Federal immigration officials are crediting more agents and the creation of two new field offices for an increase in the arrests of undocumented immigrants in Nebraska and Iowa this year.

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service arrested 3,242 illegal immigrants in the two-state region this year - a 28 percent jump from the 2,524 arrests made last year - according to an INS report released Thursday.

The number of illegal immigrants deported from the region increased from 838 to 984.

Deputy director Michael Went said 43 newly-hired officers and field offices in North Platte and Grand Island helped with immigration enforcement efforts. In the past, the INS sometimes has been unable to respond to police requests to investigate suspected illegal immigrants in more remote areas of the two states.

"For example, if a traffic stop occurred in Lexington or North Platte, it would take us perhaps three or four hours to respond to that traffic stop," he said. "Now that we have an enforcement office in North Platte, we don't have a problem getting somebody there."

Twenty of the new officers went to Iowa and the other 23 were assigned to Nebraska. The additions were made to deal with immigrant smuggling along Interstate 80.

Smuggling cases in the two states increased from 112 last year to 164, according to the report, which covered Oct. 1, 1999, through Sept. 30.

What INS officials would like to see in the coming year, Went said, is the resurrection of an enforcement program similar to the now-defunct Operation Vanguard, where INS agents screen employment personnel files in places such as meatpacking plants.

"There's only one reason why somebody enters this country illegally, and that's to get a job," he said. "Operation Vanguard had the potential to be very successful. If we don't do that, we will have to enforce something similar to be successful."

Such enforcement issues likely will have a lower priority than the backlog of citizenship and residency applications in the region, director Jerry Heinauer said. The wait for permanent residency applications to be approved can take up to 2 1/2 years while citizenship requests can be processed in about 6 to 8 months, he said.

Thursday's report shows that the number of applications for naturalization and permanent residency increased from 4,020 last year to 5,694 this year.