Ten Questions on the Obama Administration's Release of Criminal Aliens

By CIS on May 28, 2014

Many questions remain after a report from the Center for Immigration Studies revealed that the Obama administration released 36,007 convicted criminal aliens into American neighborhoods in 2013. This group included aliens convicted of hundreds of violent and serious crimes, including homicide, sexual assault, kidnapping, and aggravated assault. Despite the obvious threat to public safety, the Obama administration has remained largely silent and has not explained fully why these convicted criminal aliens, who had been convicted of a total of nearly 88,000 crimes, were released. Listed below are 10 questions that, if answered, will shine some light on the administration's policies and the impact on American communities.

1. How many individuals with criminal convictions were released by the administration from 2009 to 2012? The recent CIS report analyzed release data from 2013, the only year for which such data have been made available. However, the federal government's release of dangerous criminal aliens into the United States has been taking place for many years. An itemized list of criminal convictions tied to all of these individuals over time would shed light on the policy's long-term impact.

2. How were each of the releases justified? The Obama administration should clarify in more detail the justification for each release. For example, how many releases were court-ordered and which court ordered the release? How many were discretionary? How many releases were due to the alien claiming eligibility for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals? How many releases were influenced by a petition, protest, or other outside intervention?

3. In what cities and towns were the criminal aliens released? The public has an interest in knowing when and where the releases took place. The Obama administration should provide the geographic location for each individual release, either the detention facility each individual was released from, or the zip code of the individual's last known address. Including the most serious criminal conviction for each individual along with the geographic location would help clarify the impact on public safety.

4. Were the victims notified about the releases? Why or why not? The 36,007 criminal aliens victimized many people who likely assumed the federal government would make every effort to remove the perpetrators from the country. Surely victims and next of kin have an interest in knowing if criminals are going to be released back into society. This is particularly true in the case of the 193 homicide convictions, 426 sexual assault convictions, and 303 kidnapping convictions.

5. What were the conditions of release and/or forms of supervision for each individual? Were any criminal aliens convicted of crimes of violence released on their own recognizance? The 36,007 criminal aliens were released either by means of bond, order of recognizance (unsupervised), order of supervision (which can consist of nothing more than a periodic telephone call to ICE), an alternative to detention (such as an electronic ankle bracelet), or parole (a form of legal status). It remains unclear how the administration used these conditions of release and forms of supervision.

6. What is the immigration status of those released? Specifically, how many of those released were lawful permanent residents (LPRs), how many were illegal border-crossers, how many were overstays, and how many had some other form of legal status?

7. Did the Department of Homeland Security ever invoke 8 U.S.C. § 1253(d) and direct the State Department to stop issuing visas to countries that refuse to take back their citizens? Federal law requires the Secretary of State to stop issuing visas to the citizens of any country that refuses to take back its citizens. Though it has rarely been invoked, the law can have the effect of getting countries to cooperate, increasing the likelihood that the alien will be returned. The administration should describe any steps that were taken by the State Department to pressure individual countries regarding the return of their citizens.

8. Which countries are refusing to take back their law-breaking citizens? How many aliens have been refused repatriation by each of these countries? As detailed by the GAO in a 2004 report, according to ICE officials, several countries have consistently refused to issue travel documents or delayed issuing them, thereby limiting ICE's ability to return aliens to these countries. Specifically, ICE officials mentioned that they have significant problems with Cuba, Laos, Vietnam, China, India, Jamaica, former Soviet Republics, Iraq, Iran, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Poland, and Nigeria. A CIS report detailed the worst countries for travel document issuance and found that the lengthiest waits included Qatar (800 days), Cambodia (522 days), St. Kitts and Nevis (410 days), Kuwait (376 days), and Vietnam (368 days).

9. How many criminal aliens released in previous years have gone on to commit new crimes after being released? ICE should be required to track and disclose any additional crimes that have been committed by these individuals after their release. This information is critical to evaluating whether the releases are creating unnecessary harm to public safety.

10. How many of the criminal aliens released have since absconded from their immigration proceedings or become fugitives? Both DHS and the Department of Justice should disclose how many of these criminal aliens failed to appear for hearings and became fugitives after their release from ICE custody. Studies have shown that fewer than a quarter of aliens who are released from custody while awaiting the outcome of immigration proceedings will show up for immigration court to finish their case.