Rounding Up Criminal Aliens

By Jessica Vaughan, September 3, 2015

Last week, ICE officers in California took to the streets for four days to round up 244 criminal aliens in six southern California counties. Billed by ICE as a "fugitive operation", as if these criminal aliens had fled from the law, in fact this was really a mop-up action necessitated by the release of these offenders under California's sanctuary policy. If the number of non-cooperative jurisdictions continues to grow (there are now more than 310), and Congress does not take action, ICE increasingly will be obliged to do its important work in this manner. And that's the way the Obama administration wants immigration enforcement to be: inefficient, expensive, and frightening to immigrants. But it doesn't have to be this way.

Until recently, the combination of universal fingerprint-sharing made possible through the Secure Communities program and generally cooperative local agencies meant that ICE officers had the ability (if not the mandate) to apprehend almost every illegal alien who was arrested by local authorities. "It was almost a perfect system," one ICE officer told me. "Almost no illegal aliens went through the jails [in our area] without us knowing about them." Upon learning that an illegal alien had been booked into a local jail, ICE officers could issue a detainer notifying the jail that they intended to initiate deportation, and the locals would hold the alien in custody, as per federal regulations that are still in effect (8 CFR 287.7). Contrary to the claims of enforcement opponents, ICE doesn't need a judicial warrant to make an administrative arrest of an illegal alien, and there's no such thing in immigration enforcement anyway .

Times have changed. Now, says Virginia Kice, an ICE spokeswoman in California, "One of the challenges we're facing is because of state law and local policies, more individuals who are potentially deportable with significant criminal histories are being released onto the street instead of being turned over to ICE."

From January through August 2014, local sanctuaries nationwide released more than 8,000 criminal aliens that ICE was seeking to deport. More than 60 percent already had a serious criminal history. More than 1,800 went on to commit new crimes within that eight-month period. ICE has re-apprehended only about 30 percent; the rest are still at large.

California became the nation's largest sanctuary jurisdiction on January 1, 2014, when it adopted the so-called Trust Act. This curiously named legislation forbids local law enforcement agencies from holding criminal aliens in custody for ICE, except in the case of certain serious offenders. It also allows local governments to impose even more severe restrictions, as the city of San Francisco has done, by prohibiting all forms of cooperation and communication with ICE.

A few cities outside California and one other state have adopted some version of the Trust Act (for examples, see our map of sanctuaries. Several more have been added since we first published the list: Clayton County, Ga.; Chesterfield County, Va.; New York City, N.Y.; all county jails in New Mexico; Douglas County, Neb.; Montgomery County, Md.; Prince George's County, Md.; Lafayette Parish, La.; and the city of Lawrence, Mass.

Most California sheriffs actively oppose the restrictions and cooperate to the fullest extent they can within the confines of the Trust Act. Others just ignore ICE communications. I am told that the Riverside County Sheriff's office goes so far as to stamp "Rejected" on ICE notifications and faxes them back to ICE.

The Los Angeles Times profiled 32-year-old Hugo Medina, one of the illegal aliens the Riverside Sheriff released, whom ICE had to locate and re-arrest. Medina had a lengthy rap sheet of convictions for several instances of drunk, unlicensed, uninsured driving; disorderly conduct; possession of controlled substances; theft; prior deportation; failure to appear in court; and more. He referred to these as "errors in judgment" and vowed to return, if re-deported, to his wife and American-born children who were "traumatized" by ICE's action.

The 244 criminal aliens that ICE was able to track down in last week's operation are a drop in the bucket of sanctuary-related releases. Last year, there were more than 5,000 criminal aliens released by California jails, making up more than half the nationwide total of sanctuary releases. I am told that nowadays nearly all of the cases pursued by ICE street teams in southern California are criminals released by local jails despite receiving a detainer notice from ICE.

California counties dominate the list of jails that have released the most criminal aliens ICE was seeking to deport:

  1. Santa Clara County Jail, Calif.
  2. Los Angeles County Jail (Twin Tower), Calif.
  3. Santa Rita Jail (Alameda County), Calif.
  4. Dade County Correctional, Fla.
  5. Vista Detention Facility, (northern San Diego County) Calif.
  6. Contra Costa County Jail, Calif.
  7. Cook County Jail, Ill.
  8. San Francisco County Jail, Calif.
  9. Fresno County Jail, Calif.
  10. Denver Justice Center (includes a detention center), Colo.
  11. San Diego County Jail, Calif.
  12. San Mateo County Jail, Calif.
  13. Santa Clara County Men's Jail, Calif.
  14. San Joaquin County Jail, Calif.
  15. Sonoma County Main Adult Detention Center, Calif.
  16. Ventura County Jail, Calif.
  17. Sacramento County Jail, Calif.
  18. Clark County Detention Center, Nev.
  19. Monterey County Jail, Calif.
  20. Santa Barbara County Jail, Calif.

Sanctuary policies are a problem for ICE no matter where they exist, but they are particularly serious in California. Because of prison overcrowding, many state convicts, who are by definition the more serious offenders, now are housed in county jails. If a deportable state convict is serving time in a county jail that refuses to cooperate with ICE, then ICE will have no way to initiate deportation without apprehending the convict in the community, if they can find him. The same overcrowding problem means that many of the county convicts serve no time at all; they are released on probation or some form of "supervision", again, meaning ICE has to track down those who are deportable when, under the old system of detainers, they could have been turned directly over to ICE, sparing the taxpayers the cost of whatever supervision was imposed.

This perfect storm of an overwhelmed criminal justice system, relaxed sentencing policies, and obstruction of ICE efforts to take custody is what Santa Maria, Calif., Police Chief Ralph Martin referred to as the "blood trail" that set free Victor Aureliano Martinez Ramirez, who brutally killed Air Force veteran Marilyn Pharis.

Not only does this situation put the public at risk from at-large criminals who should be deported, it is very expensive. I am told that one ICE officer can place 10 to 15 detainers in a day, with a couple of officers needed to take them into custody. But locating and arresting just one released criminal alien requires a lot more: one case officer to do the research and paperwork, at least two officers and a government vehicle to conduct five to eight hours or more of surveillance to hone in on the subject, a trip back to the office to get the supervisor's signature, another trip to the offender's address to stake out and wait for him to leave his house, and potentially a public confrontation and chase that ensues upon contact.

Multiply this by hundreds of targets, and it becomes a major commitment of resources to re-arrest just a fraction of the criminal aliens who are now on the loose. I asked ICE if it had calculated the cost of the four-day, six-county California operation and was told it had not. But it is not hard to see that this is less efficient than processing criminal aliens before they are released, not to mention more dangerous. If you were an ICE officer, where would you rather arrest a gang member or cartel operative: in a jail, or at his house?

There is a better way. Congress must not allow the irresponsible policies of sanctuary jurisdictions to bog down ICE any more than it is already hampered by the Obama administration's relentless undercutting. It needs to clarify in law that local agencies may not obstruct ICE's legitimate enforcement actions and to sanction those that do. Further, since more than 90 percent of the nation's sheriffs and police chiefs do still cooperate with ICE without issue, lawmakers should give them qualified immunity from the endless predatory lawsuits instigated by advocates for illegal aliens. And Congress could thwart the Obama administration's sandbagging of enforcement and rein in costs by requiring ICE to use more efficient forms of due process to remove criminal aliens. No one should be satisfied with H.R. 3009, the weak bill rushed through by House leadership earlier this summer, when all this and more is covered in the Davis-Oliver Act, named for two California deputies killed by an illegal alien cartel operative last year.