ICE Adopts Catch and Release for 287(g)

By Jessica M. Vaughan on June 29, 2009

According to news accounts, earlier this month ICE issued a directive to one of the most productive 287(g) jurisdictions to cease holding many of the illegal aliens arrested by the sheriff’s officers, and instead release them back into the community. Just like in the commercial, where the mean guy in the suit takes away the kid’s cool truck and gives him a lousy picture to play with instead, Sheriff Daron Hall knows the difference. Now, only a fraction of the thousands of illegal aliens they arrest in Davidson County, Tenn. will actually be removed. The rest will be released on their own recognizance (“O.R.,” or “down the road,” as the expression goes) and told to appear in immigration court at a future date. ICE knows from experience that fewer than 15 percent of illegal aliens released O.R. will show up for these hearings. Maybe Janet Napolitano will send Sheriff Hall and the residents of Davidson County a picture of the criminal alien being deported instead.

Davidson County launched its 287(g) agreement in March 2007. According to records I received from ICE in a FOIA request for a forthcoming report, in the first year the 16 immigration law-trained sheriff’s officers charged 1,745 aliens who were booked in the jail with immigration violations. In 2008, they charged 2,647 alien offenders with immigration violations on top of their other crimes. In the first two months of FY2009, they charged 365. According to a report on the Sheriff’s web site, these individuals had a total of 20,000 other current and previous state offenses in their criminal histories.

To put these numbers into perspective, consider that in 2007, the ICE New Orleans Office, which has responsibility for west Tennessee and four other entire states, made 3,094 arrests in the entire jurisdiction – so the Davidson County arrests are making a huge dent in the criminal alien population in that area. In fact, Davidson County officers are arresting three times as many illegal aliens per 287(g)-trained deputy as Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s deputies in Maricopa County, Arizona. Clearly, in the eyes of the Obama administration, they had to be stopped.

The public safety benefits of Davidson County’s 287(g) program are outlined in the report mentioned above. As a result of the removal of more than 5,000 alien lawbreakers from the county, there has been a 46 percent decline in the number of illegal aliens committing crimes and a 31 percent decline in the number of foreign-born arrested. Seventy gang members have been removed. The program has enabled the sheriff’s office to get rid of individuals like Manuel Garcia Delgado. Before the county had 287(g), he had been arrested on misdemeanors and released. But the last time he landed in jail, the 287(g)-trained officers learned that he had 20 different aliases and 23 prior convictions in three other states for crimes such as drug trafficking, burglary and theft. He has since been removed. However, under the current ICE directive, Delgado would have been sent down the road, because his most recent arrest in Davidson County was for a misdemeanor.

The reason ICE has given for directing Davidson County to chill on the immigration detentions is that the agency does not want to fill up immigration detention space with “minor” offenders. Yet it is not clear who exactly ICE does plan to put in those beds. Worksite enforcement is at a standstill, fugitive operations are under review, and gang operations are focused on the leaders. Thousands of criminal aliens are being identified under the Secure Communities Initiative, but they are already incarcerated.

Since 2006, the 287(g) program is responsible for bringing immigration charges against more than 80,000 aliens who broke other state and local laws. In 2007, the program accounted for about 20 percent of all ICE criminal alien arrests. Despite these impressive results, Congress seems inclined to let the Obama administration smother the program with micromanagement from ICE headquarters.