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The DA Takes On Illegals, Because She Can

Not content to throw two of her prosecutors into the blender last week, Harris County DA Pat Lykos has decided to turn her guns on yet another unimportant bloc of voters - illegal immigrants.

The Chron picks up the tale:

"Four senior assistant district attorneys, speaking anonymously to protect their jobs, said Jim Leitner, District Attorney Pat Lykos' first assistant, discussed the plan with about 50 prosecutors during a meeting last Friday. Under the plan, defendants in the country illegally will not be eligible for probation or deferred adjudication, including mandatory probations under state law. If the accused lies, he or she could be prosecuted for perjury.

The prosecutors also said plea papers are being redrafted for defendants to swear to their immigration status. If defendants refuse to sign, they will not be eligible for any plea bargains and their cases will be set for trial."

While the proposal gratified Minuteman types and hordes of slack-jawed Chron commenters, it has stuck in the craw of prosecutors, defense attorneys and immigration activists and attorneys.

Local immigration attorney Raed Gonzalez told Hair Balls it was a "disaster policy," "absolutely preposterous," "a big mistake," and just for good measure, also "grossly unfair."

And he's not done yet.

"Exhausting all the resources of the DA's office and everyone who is undocumented going to trial is an absurdity," Gonzalez continues.

As for the prosecutors, little more needs to be said than four of them were willing to risk their jobs to go behind Lykos's back to the Chronicle. Plea deals exist for several reasons, and one of them is to enable prosecutors to have the time to pursue the really important cases. One of the anonymous prosecutors also noted that Lykos's proposal would circumvent existing laws that mandate probation as the maximum penalty for certain offenses. What's more, having to go to a criminal trial with, for example, every illegal caught drunk-driving with a vial of coke in their pocket, would be a royal pain in the ass, not just for lawyers and judges, but also you, the jury pool of Harris County.

For piddly stuff. "Most of these are misdemeanor cases in any event, and if they are serious about those cases they should be going to trial anyway, and not just because they are in the United States illegally," Gonzalez says. "Everybody's already complaining that we don't have enough police officers in the city of Houston," he says. "Can you imagine all of the arrests of anybody who is illegal for any reason, all of the cases that are gonna be coming up for trial? The courts are gonna be so booked it's gonna be ridiculous. Do they have the resources? Do they understand how much this is gonna cost?"

On his blog, local defense attorney Mark Bennett called it "politically pandering" and  predicted it would cause prosecutors to cut corners in other, potentially more important criminal cases.

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"Pat Lykos is putting the DA's Office in the position of policing immigration," he wrote, and further predicted that it would play well with "Scared White Voters." (Who, it must be said, seem to constitute the vast bulk of Chron commenters.) What's more, Bennett has doubts that the proposal to bar illegal immigrants from equal protection under the law would pass constitutional muster under the 14th Amendment.

Many illegal immigrants, Gonzalez points out, are trying to straighten out their status. This policy would derail that dream for those that fell afoul of the law, no matter how minor their transgression.

"There was a law a long time ago called Section 245-I which allowed any employer or family member to petition for you," he says. "If you would pay a fine you could become a legal, permanent resident of the United States - if they didn't catch you. So there are a lot of people here that can become legal permanent residents and are just waiting for a date, and if they happen to be involved in some type of offense of any type, they are not gonna be able to cut a deal. Instead, they are passed on to Immigration and removed from the country without having the opportunity to apply for that relief that the law provided for them."

Gonzalez predicts that if enacted, the policy would immediately result in expensive litigation for the county (read: Hair Balls and you, too). Apparently that would be a small price to pay so long as Pat Lykos looks tough on illegal immigrants.

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