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Illegal immigrants to avoid deportation in some crimes in Alameda County
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OAKLAND  (AP) — A new policy in Alameda County is instructing prosecutors to consider filing lesser criminal charges for some legal immigrants in an effort to avoid convictions with mandatory deportation.

 District Attorney Nancy O'Malley's order will make the county one of a handful in the U.S. to pass similar policies.

The policy would allow legal immigrants convicted of petty thefts or low-level drug cases to avoid deportation in exchange for longer jail sentences or other terms.

"We're not talking about giving alternative charges to serious and violent felons," O'Malley told the paper.

Under federal law, immigrants who have not yet obtained U.S. citizenship are forcibly deported automatically after certain convictions.

A similar Santa Clara County policy has helped avoid some expensive trials against immigrants, who can be more likely to settle cases if a guilty plea doesn't force deportation, according to a Georgetown Law Journal study.

Since 2010, more than 1,700 people first arrested in Alameda County have been deported, with 73 percent of those having been convicted of a crime.

Ray Keller, a public defender in Alameda County, said that the policy helps address a perception among prosecutors that immigration status is not related to a criminal defendant's negotiations in a case.

"There were many defendants charged with relatively minor crimes who would be convicted, pay a fine, be on probation, and then discover they would be deported after living legally in the country for 20 years and raising a family here," Keller said.