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Illegal aliens who report crimes won't face deportation
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Victims of crimes need to speak up, regardless if they are in the United States legally or not.

That's the official stance of law enforcement officials who gathered Thursday in Modesto to issue assurances to the community that immigration status will not be delved into upon the reporting of crimes.

Authorities believe that many crimes in Ceres and the other communities are going unreported because immigrants here illegally may fear being deported.

Ceres Police Chief Art deWerk said his agency has lost cases in court because victims of "serious crimes did not show up for fear what might happen to them because of immigration."

DeWerk said he favors encouraging the reporting of crimes by all victims because staying "silent harms the whole community. It becomes an attractive place for criminals to do business and it's just not good for the community."

Last February, a coalition of Latino groups began developing a program they call Respect and Education About Law Enforcement Services, or REALES, and eventually received a buy-in from the county's top law enforcement officials, including Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christiansen.

Carolina Bernal, the executive director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Stanislaus County, made a pitch for the program before the Ceres City Council on Oct. 22. She noted that a local woman was afraid to report who she saw kill her husband, fearing she would be taken back to Mexico. Bernal said the Sheriff's Department and district attorney assisted her with immigration issues to get her to testify in court.

Balvino Iziarry, president of the Hispanic Leadership Council, said he is impressed that all police chiefs in the county have supported the program. There was initial concern among Latino leaders that they would resist.

Many Spanish-only speaking residents and illegal residents are being preyed upon, such as having money stolen from them at bank ATMs, said Iziarry. They rarely report the crimes out of fear, he noted.

District Attorney Birgit Fladager said her office will continue to prosecute those who commit crimes despite residency status.

"If you are an undocumented foreign national," said de Werk, "and are accused of a crime, you will be reported to the INS."

A public education program is underway to get out the word to Ceres residents through distribution of Spanish pamphlet.

Many times Ceres officers have suspected - but could not prove - that illegal activities were going on despite the victims' silence.

"Extortion is common," said de Werk. "I do think that some of these people get threatened by unscrupulous people that they'll get reported if they don't pay up money. I suspect that women are brought in to provide certain services or ... coming here on their own volition to make money.

"In neighborhoods what we are seeing is gang activity that involves putting pressure on kids to get involved in gangs and sell drus and do taggings and things like that.

"It seems to us the illegal immigration situation creates a new venue for crime because of the people who pray on illegal immigrants know they're very unlikely to report the crimes."