Reports released Thursday on ICE's Secure Communities program confirm that removable aliens comprise a significant share of the nation's criminal population. According to these statistics, 11 percent of all inmates booked into participating jails are flagged by the system as removable aliens (in comparison, non-citizens comprise nine percent of the nation's total adult population – see "Immigration and Crime: Assessing a Conflicted Issue"). ICE has removed or ordered the departure of 16 percent of these criminal aliens.
The Secure Communities program is an initiative launched in 2008 to automatically check the immigration status of all those booked into participating jails as part of the standard fingerprint check. Currently there are 197 participating jurisdictions in 20 states. As of December 31, 2009, they had screened 1,340,000 new inmates. Of these, 146,000 were identified as removable aliens. A total of 23,000 of those were removed or ordered to depart.
The Secure Communities screening can identify only those aliens who have records in the immigration databases as a result of previous encounters with immigration authorities, such as the Border Patrol or ICE. Those illegal aliens who have gone undetected so far are not included in these statistics, so the total number of removable aliens is probably higher than the 11 percent of inmates identified in these systems.
ICE's current policy is to give highest priority to the removal of aliens who have been convicted of the most serious crimes, such as murder, rape, kidnapping, and robbery, known as "Level 1" offenders. Secure Communities screening identified about 15,000 Level 1 offenders and about 3,000 have been removed or ordered to depart.
It is fine to make Level 1 offenders a priority, but the reality is that there just aren't all that many of them. Focusing on them will not make much of a dent in the criminal alien population, much less the illegal alien population as a whole, and cannot be considered a credible immigration law enforcement strategy in and of itself.
And, why wait for an arrested illegal alien to become a Level 1 offender before removing him? This week the Los Angeles Times reported on a case in Cook County, Ill. (home of Chicago), where county aldermen have resisted joining Secure Communities and police policy forbids local officers from reporting offenders to ICE. Mwenda Murithi, a Kenyan who came to the United States on a student visa (revoked in 2003), has been arrested 26 times. In 2007, after serving 30 days in Cook County jail for a drug violation, he was again released instead of reported to ICE. Soon after, Murithi ordered a gang hit on a playground in which a stray bullet killed a 13-year old girl. Now he can't be deported until he serves his 55-year sentence, costing millions of dollars to Cook County taxpayers, who include the grieving family of the young girl.
Stories like this are far too common. It is hard to understand why ICE (and certain local law enforcement agencies) would want to accept responsibility for allowing illegal alien criminals to remain here even after they have been flagged, giving them the opportunity to commit more crimes, when Congress would almost certainly provide more resources to remove these criminals, if the administration asked for it.