Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer points to an immigration program for the 21 Chilean defendants who are accused of multiple robberies, some of which are linked to an international crime conglomerate.
“Defendants from Chile have posed a uniquely frustrating challenge because the Chilean government has refused to provide us with the criminal history of Chilean citizens utilizing the ESTA VISA Program to enter the United States,” Spitzer said in a press release.
The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) requires a record of criminal history before a resident can remain in the U.S. for 90 days at a time because those who have been convicted of a violent crime are not eligible.
However, Chile has faced various political upheavals in recent years.
“This situation is a huge embarrassment for the US federal authorities which have embraced Chile’s government and many Latin American countries are encouraging political prisoners to leave the country and flee to US borders in order to get rid of the nuisance and not overcrowd their prisons,” said Irina Tsukerman, a United States national security lawyer and geopolitical specialist.
As previously reported by ABC News, Chilean defendants along with 121 suspects are believed responsible for home invasion robberies and burglaries, commercial burglaries, and smash and grab robberies.
For example, three Chileans were caught breaking into an Anaheim home and were charged with two felony counts of first-degree residential burglary, one misdemeanor count of possession of burglary tools, and one misdemeanor count of falsely representing self to officer or resisting a public or peace officer. Other targeted cities include Yorba Linda, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, and Mission Viejo.
“These crews are waiting, they are watching our every move, and when they think the timing is just right, they are smashing their way into our lives – and carrying out whatever cash, jewelry, and other expensive items they can find,” Spitzer said at a press conference.
But without access to their Chilean criminal histories, Spitzer cannot prove to the judge that the Chilean defendants pose a greater threat to public safety, according to media reports.
“If they are proven to be a greater public safety risk, they would be placed somewhere other than public housing where there could be a high risk of social harm as a result of their presence,” Tsukerman told OrangeCountyLawyers.com.
Spitzer has been vocal about his desire to remove Chile from the eligible cities list as a country of origin but for now, his hands are tied.
“Unless federal authorities decide to ban anyone from entering US from that country, it will be considered discriminatory to deny public housing to migrants from Chile only based on the country of origin because it cannot be assumed that everyone or even most migrants from Chile are criminals or otherwise a high social risk,” Tsukerman added.
Once apprehended, the burglary crews are turned over to the Home Invasion. Eradication. Interdiction. Strike. Team unit (HIEST) where four veteran prosecutors and four district attorney investigators working with law enforcement partners across Southern California to identify, arrest, and successfully prosecute them.
“Our judges and our legislature have failed us by ensuring that there are no consequences for committing crimes – and that’s exactly why there are people with five, six, and nine strikes breaking into our homes instead of serving time behind bars,” Spitzer said.
*Photo & video courtesy Orange County DA’s office
Juliette Fairley covers legal topics for various publications including the Southern California Record, the Epoch Times and Pacer Monitor-News. Prior to discovering she had an ease and facility for law, Juliette lived in Orange County and Los Angeles where she pursued acting in television and film.