Obama’s new immigration chief visits Southern California

Federal officials said Monday they failed to account for the deaths of 10 immigrants in their custody. KPCC’s Frank Stoltze says the news surfaced as the new head of the federal immigration agency visits Southern California.

Frank Stoltze: Officials say the deaths occurred from 2004 to 2007. They would not immediately say how or where. In an interview with KPCC, immigration enforcement chief John Morton acknowledged problems with the way the government detains immigrants.

John Morton: It is decentralized, it is disjointed, you know it doesn’t have a uniform rhyme or reason to it.

Stoltze: In six years, more than a hundred people have died in immigration facilities. Morton said the agency’s seeking to provide better medical care, and to house non-criminal undocumented immigrants somewhere other than jail facilities.

Morton, whom President Obama appointed in February, also said he’s ended quotas for capturing fugitive illegal immigrants. At the same time, he promised more deportations as his agency works more closely with local jails to identify illegal immigrants.

Morton: We are focused first and foremost on serious offenders and the worst of the worst, but I don’t want to suggest that simply because simply because someone has committed a less serious offense that that is somehow is a pass for remaining in the country, particularly if you are already here unlawfully.

Stoltze: Under a new federal program scheduled to start next month, officials plan to check the immigration status of everyone booked into Los Angeles County Jail, not just people convicted of crimes. Immigrant rights activists say the program will lead to the break-up of more families who’ve lived and worked in the region for decades.