Dozens of Gang Members Released By Sanctuary Policies

By Jessica M. Vaughan and Preston Huennekens on April 17, 2018

According to ICE statistics provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee, over a nine-month period in FY2017, 142 gang members that ICE was seeking to deport were released by the local law enforcement agency instead of transferred to ICE custody.  Two-thirds of the releases occurred in California, which has had a strict sanctuary policy in effect since January 2014. Fifteen of the aliens were members of the MS-13 gang and 127 were members of other gangs.

The releases occurred in 37 jurisdictions. All but one of these (Maricopa County, Ariz.) are considered sanctuary jurisdictions because of local policies that prohibit full cooperation with ICE. In these jurisdictions, authorities are prohibited from honoring ICE detainers, which are notifications (accompanied by warrants of arrest) for the local agency to hold an alien for ICE, or to provide ICE with the date and time of the alien's release from local custody.

The largest number of releases (22) took place in Santa Clara County, where the extreme sanctuary policy pre-dates the state sanctuary law. Los Angeles and Orange Counties had the next highest number of releases, with 16 and 12 gang members released. Outside of California, the next largest number of releases occurred in Travis County, Texas, which includes the city of Austin, where 11 gang members were released.

Most of the MS-13 gang member releases were in Maryland, with five MS-13 members released by Montgomery County and four by Prince George's County. Our research has documented a significant MS-13 problem in Maryland, finding 84 MS-13 members arrested between 2012 and 2018 in Maryland, second only to the gang's birthplace in California.

Ten gang members, including three MS-13 members, were released in the sanctuary state of Washington, which is not typically considered a major hotbed of MS-13 activity. This may indicate either the spread of MS-13 cliques from California or the resurgence of local MS-13 branches, perhaps fueled by the resettlement of newly arrived illegal alien youths and families from Central America.

These releases occurred between October 1, 2016, and June 19, 2017. The table below provides details:

    Declined ICE Detainers
State County MS-13 Other Gang Total
Arizona Maricopa 0 1 1
California Alameda 0 2 2
  Contra Costa 0 9 9
  Fresno 0 3 3
  Imperial 0 1 1
  Kings 0 1 1
  Los Angeles 0 16 16
  Mendocino 0 2 2
  Merced 0 1 1
  Orange 0 12 12
  Placer 0 1 1
  Sacramento 0 3 3
  San Benito 0 1 1
  San Bernardino 0 1 1
  San Francisco 1 6 7
  San Joaquin 0 2 2
  San Mateo 0 3 3
  Santa Clara 0 22 22
  Tulare 0 2 2
Illinois Cook 0 3 3
Louisiana Orleans Parish 0 2 2
Maryland Baltimore City 1 0 1
  Montgomery 5 1 6
  Prince George's 4 2 6
Minnesota Hennepin 0 1 1
New Jersey Middlesex 0 1 1
  Union 0 1 1
New Mexico Bernalillo 0 2 2
New York New York City 1 3 4
Oregon Jefferson 0 1 1
  Washington 0 1 1
Rhode Island Providence 0 1 1
Texas Travis 0 11 11
Washington Clark 2 0 2
  King 1 4 5
  Skagit 0 1 1
  Snohomish 0 3 3
Total   15 127 142

A footnote in the report indicates that in some cases ICE may have been notified about the alien’s release, but was not able to arrange to take custody in time to avoid release of the gang member.  

To address the obvious public safety problems caused by sanctuary policies, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has begun targeting sanctuary cities by restricting access to certain federal funding, such as the JAG law enforcement grants. The DOJ has also filed a lawsuit against the State of California over its sanctuary law, and a growing number of California cities are joining the lawsuit over concerns about the impact on communities.

[The posting has been edited since its original publication.]

Topics: Gangs