Naming and Shaming: The First ICE Weekly Alien Criminal Releases List

By Dan Cadman on March 23, 2017

Following the directives in one of President Trump's immigration-related executive orders (EOs) and the augmenting instructions in a subsequent policy memorandum from Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has issued its first report identifying state and local jurisdictions that have refused to honor immigration detainers filed to hold alien criminals until they can be taken into custody by ICE agents.

The EO directed that ICE prepare the data contained in this report, and make it available in a readily understandable and accessible form for public consumption.

The report comes in four parts, the first three being most informative from the public's point of view:

  • Section I: Highest Volume of Detainers Issued to Non-Cooperative Jurisdictions between January 28, 2017 and February 3, 2017;
  • Section II: Jurisdictions with Recorded Declined Detainers Broken Down by Individuals Released between January 28, 2017 and February 3, 2017;
  • Section III: Table of Jurisdictions that have Enacted Policies which Limit Cooperation with ICE; and
  • Section IV: Report Scope and Data Fidelity.

Section I of the report states that ICE issued 3,083 detainers in the week beginning January 28, 2017. This is a sign of a significant increase in interior enforcement activity against criminal aliens, and represents very good progress at a very early point in the new administration. This number is approximately double the average weekly number of detainers issued by ICE in the last two years of the Obama administration. In 2015 and 2016, ICE issued a weekly average of 1,863 and 1,596 detainers, respectively.

In contrast, in 2011, which was the peak year for interior criminal alien enforcement, when the Secure Communities program was nearing full implementation, ICE issued an average of 6,080 detainers per week, or double the current rate. This indicates that ICE has the capacity to further increase the level of enforcement activity, even without a great infusion of resources.

Section II reports that during the week covered by the report, ICE officers discovered 206 instances of declined detainers in which criminal aliens were released. The report covers only those instances in which it was discovered that a decliner had been rejected by a local jail, not all instances in which a detainer was rejected. According to DHS officials, there could be more instances that are not yet known to ICE. But in each of the detainers reported as rejected, the criminal alien was released. In most cases listed in this report, ICE discovered that the detainer was rejected because the criminal alien was encountered by ICE after release from the jail.

Detainers were rejected by 46 different jails during the week covered by the report. These jails were located in 16 different states.

The largest number of criminal alien releases (142) were in Travis County, Texas, (which includes Austin) and where the newly elected sheriff adopted a sanctuary policy on January 20, 2017. These releases appear to have occurred in a very short period of time, amounting to a kind of sheriff-engineered jail break following adoption of the policy. The public can learn more about the criminal aliens ICE is seeking to deport from Travis County, including their names, charges, ages, and countries of origin, on the sheriff's website.

The next largest number (6) were released in Boulder County, Colo., where the sheriff has adopted a sanctuary policy. Three criminal aliens were released in Bastrop County and Williamson County, Texas. These jurisdictions, according to ICE, do not have a policy limiting cooperation with ICE, so it is not clear why the detainers were rejected.

The aliens released by the jails have an alarming array of serious criminal convictions and charges. The report lists one charge per individual, presumably the most serious, which may have been the instant charge of the most recent arrest, or may have been a prior charge or conviction. For the 206 cases, the most numerous charges and convictions were as follows:

  • 51 – Assault, Aggravated Assault or Battery;
  • 40 – Driving Under the Influence;
  • 30 – Domestic Violence or Family;
  • 19 – Robbery, Burglary or Auto Theft;
  • 17 – Drugs (Selling and Possessing);
  • 14 – Rape, Sex Assault or Sex Offenses (not including 5 Indecent Exposure).

In addition, one individual who had been charged with homicide was released by the Philadelphia Police Department.

Anti-enforcement advocacy groups and proponents of sanctuary policies frequently assert that being arrested for a minor traffic offense is likely to lead to detention and deportation by ICE, and that these individuals should be protected from deportation. During the period covered by this report, only a tiny share of the aliens shielded from ICE by the sanctuaries were traffic offenders. Three of the 206 aliens released were listed as having a traffic offense, and one of those was Hit and Run, which is not a minor offense.

Section III of the report is a list of jurisdictions considered by ICE to be non-cooperative sanctuaries. This is not an exhaustive list, but it is the most recent compilation of sanctuaries available. We have updated the Center's map of sanctuary jurisdictions to add the following new jurisdictions that were identified by ICE:

  • Ithaca, N.Y.
  • Travis County, Texas
  • Iowa City, Iowa
  • Boulder County, Colo.
  • Montpelier, Vt.
  • Alachua County, Fla.
  • Franklin County, Pa.
  • Arlington County, Va.
  • Clay, Fla.
  • San Miguel, N.M.
  • DeKalb County, Ga.

In addition, we have removed several large jurisdictions that have dropped their sanctuary policies. These include Miami-Dade County, Fla., which reversed its policy to avoid debarment from federal funding and Suffolk County, N.Y., which changed its policy after a favorable New York court ruling. In addition, we removed a number of smaller jurisdictions that are no longer labeled by ICE as non-cooperative, or that have adjusted their policies on honoring detainers.

As is evident from the date range, this is a weekly list, consistent with the EO and DHS policy memo — something that many will find astounding given the surprising scope, not only of jurisdictions obstructing ICE efforts to arrest and deport alien criminals, but also of the volume and severity of crimes enumerated among the aliens identified in Section II. This should be deeply disturbing to the people who live in the scofflaw communities, since the implication of being on the list is that each and every one of the aliens identified was released by police back into those communities rather than being handed over to ICE.

If this is only a week's worth of harm, how bad cumulatively will things look in six weeks? Six months? And how many more victims will be harmed by recidivism of criminal aliens who will learn the important lesson from their release that local police would rather put them back onto the street to commit more crimes than to cooperate with the federal government?

This is what puts the lie to assertions from sanctuary jurisdictions that they don't want to cooperate with ICE because it will disturb their local policing efforts.

It does the same to migrant advocacy groups' efforts to mask the reality behind filing detainers against criminals. Look, for instance, at the comic-book-styled cover of "All-in-One Guide to Defeating ICE Hold Requests" and its embedded protest sign, "Immigrant Rights Are Human Rights". The guide, put out by a collective of such groups, would have us believe in a happy land that has nothing to do with real crime and real victims.

Ask the victims or surviving family members (including aliens both legal and illegal) in sanctuary communities whether they feel safer because of absurdist policies that let criminals back on the streets, often repeatedly, from which they came despite leaving behind them a path of harm and destruction.

And yet, of course, the jurisdictions that engage in obstruction of ICE efforts go to great lengths to justify their positions and, hypocritically, keep the federal dollars flowing to them even as they continue releasing alien criminals.

Given the determination of the president and DHS secretary to cut that flow, other jurisdictions are attempting a "stealth" approach to the matter by engaging in de facto sanctuary policies while not publicizing them. Apparently it hasn't occurred to them that this is a non-starter. As long as their opposition to ICE remains abstract, it doesn't matter what they say, or don't say. But first time a real detainer is filed and they decline to honor it, whoops!, they'll be caught and named-and-shamed on the weekly list. So much for stealth.

As previously mentioned, this is the first post-EO report issued by ICE, and no doubt there will be refinements as the agency moves forward. Even so, the long guns are already out and aimed squarely at the report in attempts to discredit it. Take for instance Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), which is capable of good statistical work, but oftentimes permits its progressive bias to spill over into how it chooses to examine data. On March 20, TRAC issued this alert: "ICE Refuses To Release More Comprehensive Detainer Data", and went on to say:

Today Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued its first weekly report on detainers that it said had been refused by non-federal law enforcement agencies. Unfortunately, the information ICE released is very limited and selective.

At the same time ICE released its report, the agency has started withholding other more comprehensive detainer-by-detainer information that ICE previously released to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. ICE does not claim the withheld information is exempt from disclosure, it simply claims past releases were discretionary and it is no longer willing to make many of these details available to the public.

Unfortunately, because of these ICE refusals, TRAC is unable to update its online free web query tool that allows the public to view all detainers as well as notices issued to each local law enforcement agency, month-by-month, during both the Bush and Obama Administrations, and then track what happened. TRAC's apps cover not simply whether a detainer was refused, but whether ICE actually took the person into custody. They also show how often deportation ultimately occurred following the use of a detainer.

While we are frequently philosophically at odds with TRAC, we have routinely support their (and others') arguments in favor of transparency. (See here, here, and here.)

However, in this instance, given that it is the first report issued by ICE pursuant to new policy directives, we think it unreasonable for TRAC to levy demands, especially since the gist of the complaint seems to us to be that TRAC now finds itself in competition with ICE in producing statistical reports for public consumption — something they were able to avoid solely because of past administrations' lack of transparency. They are no longer in the catbird seat.

Considering the accumulation of data that will occur as the weeks roll on and additional reports are issued, it occurs to us that, even though not specified or required either by the president or Secretary Kelly in their respective EO or memo, it would be in ICE's interest, and that of the public generally, if in addition to each week, ICE posts the roll-up of monthly, quarterly, and yearly figures. This will be particularly critical in providing a wider view of the number of scofflaw state and local jurisdictions — something one cannot see simply by viewing any one week in isolation, and clearly there is a difference in both number and scope. Compare this single weekly report, for example, with the data collected and maintained over the course of time by CIS on sanctuary jurisdictions, which as of December 2016 numbered around 300, many of which represent major police or sheriff's departments and therefore deal with hundreds of alien criminals yearly.

In the meantime, we are compiling a spreadsheet of the cases for the public to analyze, which will be updated weekly.

DHS officials have said that they hope to release additional details about these cases in future reports as they refine their data-gathering systems. We have asked that they include information about the released aliens' immigration history and more details about the aliens' criminal history.

All in all, though, in our view this represents a major step forward, and one more evidence of a presidential promise being kept; a refreshing change from the deliberate obfuscation and deceit of the Obama years.

Jessica Vaughan and Jamie Greedan assisted with this posting.