The Des Moines Register, Friday, May 29, 1998, Page 8M

Grassley upset with lack of aid in drug cases


    Washington, D.C. - The U.S. Justice Department has been "irresponsible" in failing to implement a new law that would help Iowa law officers fight drug trafficking by illegal immigrants, Sen. Charles Grassley said Thursday.
    The Iowa Republican wrote Attorney General Janet Reno to express his "great disappointment and disbelief" that the department isn't enforcing the law, which he wrote and included in a 1996 immigration-reform bill.
    Grassley also enclosed a letter from Marshalltown Police Chief David Lon Walker, who pleaded for help in detaining illegal immigrants because "our problem has only gotten worse."
    In the Marshalltown area and other parts of the state, illegal immigrants have been tied to the distribution of methamphetamine, law officers say.   Grassley aides said that when he conducted anti-drug meetings across Iowa in April, police and community leaders repeatedly asked how to deal with illegal immigrants suspected of drug trafficking.
    "This topic came up at virtually every meeting," said Melissa Kearney, a Grassley aide.
    Under the new law, the Justice Department was given the go-ahead to enter into written agreements with local law-enforcement officials that would allow the local officials to arrest and detain illegal immigrants.
    Currently, only the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service, which is part of the Justice Department, has the authority to arrest and detain people solely because they are in the country illegally.  Local law-enforcement officials can take action only if an illegal immigrant is tied to a crime.
    "There have been a number of media reports in Iowa where local police had to release illegal aliens because the INS could not come and pick them up," Grassley told Reno.  "It is irresponsible to allow these episodes to continue."
    Grassley pointed out that the Marshalltown police chief said in his letter that "we can't seem to generate much interest from the INS" in helping deal with illegal immigrants.
    Grassley said he shared the chief's frustrations, because immigration service officials in Washington have not given any response when asked why the law isn't being enforced.  Recently, Grassley said, his staff members were told that the Justice Department is setting up a pilot program in Utah to try out the law.
    That would be contrary to the intent of the law, which required a national program, Grassley said.
    Russ Bergeron, a spokesman for the immigration service, said the agency has been developing guidelines for the law and thought it would be wise to try it out on a pilot basis before going national.

Reporter Jane Norman can be
reached at (703) 907-5002 or

The Des Moines Register
Friday, May 29, 1998, Page 8M