The Non-Deported: ICE Still Releasing Criminal Aliens at a Rapid Pace

By Jessica M. Vaughan on May 28, 2015

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has published an investigative report on violent criminals released by ICE. Aptly titled "Convicted, but free to roam: Giving little notice, federal authorities have released thousands of detained undeportable immigrants — sometimes with grave results", the article tells the story of a rapist and a murderer turned loose by ICE. Such criminal alien releases are continuing at an alarming pace in 2015.

According to documents provided to the House Judiciary Committee for a hearing last month, ICE released 30,558 convicted criminal aliens in FY 2014. These individuals had been convicted of 79,059 crimes, including 175 homicides, 373 sexual assaults, 186 kidnappings, and 14,014 impaired driving offenses (see the listing of conviction categories here).

As of the end of March, ICE had released another 10,246 criminal aliens. This pace of criminal releases is down from 2013 and 2014 — but only because ICE is arresting far fewer people to start with, not because there are fewer to arrest. ICE arrests of criminal aliens are down 32 percent since this time last year, according to ICE records. Arrests of the most serious offenders are down by 22 percent over last year.

The newspaper's report focuses almost entirely on cases in which the criminal aliens were released because their home countries would not accept them back. These are known as "Zadvydas" cases, after the Supreme Court decision on the issue.

But according to ICE records, only 2,457 (8 percent) of the 30,558 convicted criminal releases in 2014 were Zadvydas cases. The majority of convicted criminal releases occurred because of Obama administration policies that require ICE officers to let the offenders go. In some cases, judges will allow aliens to be released after a bond hearing, but the conditions are usually set by ICE, and ICE attorneys say that they have been instructed not to vigorously contest an alien's request for release.

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Aliens who are released on bond typically are not subject to any form of supervision. Most of them will join the approximately 904,000 aliens who have been ordered removed (often in absentia), but who have not left. Of these, 167,527 are convicted criminals. ICE disclosed to the AJC that there are 27,790 such fugitives in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina alone, 8,647 of whom have criminal convictions.

Other ICE records show that, despite ICE Director Sarah Saldana's insistence that they are working hard to find them, few are in fact being found. As of April 2015, ICE had arrested only 11,983 of the 168,000 at-large convicted criminal aliens. The Atlanta field office of ICE had arrested only 993 of the 8,600 at-large fugitives in that area — so they are not making much of a dent in the criminal fugitive population.

We know that criminal aliens who are released by ICE often go on to commit additional crimes, just like the illegal alien rapist profiled in the AJC story. ICE released him under an order of supervision, but he simply ignored it.

The Obama administration continues to practice catch and release of criminal aliens to this day. According to ICE records, in the first six months of this fiscal year, ICE officers encountered approximately 47,000 aliens labeled a criminal threat, but took enforcement action against only about 19,000.

It's not as if ICE has nowhere to put the criminal aliens that officers encounter (most of whom are referred to the agency after arrest or conviction on local or state charges). ICE is allowing 20 percent of its detention capacity to go unused. Halfway through the fiscal year, the agency was detaining an average of 27,400 per day, in defiance of a congressional mandate to detain 34,000.

Deportations of criminal aliens continue to decline, just as overall deportations are at their lowest level in several years.

The AJC article notes other areas in which ICE is not living up to its responsibilities as a law enforcement agency that claims to prioritize public safety. ICE's victim notification system is kept under a bushel, with few victims aware of it, and no concerted agency effort to conduct outreach to victims. ICE is also taking its sweet time in launching a notification system for local law enforcement agencies that would make them aware of the thousands of offenders being turned back onto the streets. In contrast, ICE is extremely diligent at protecting the privacy of criminal alien offenders. Like other news outlets, the AJC had to go to great lengths to get information from ICE on convicted criminal alien cases and the problem of recalcitrant foreign countries, which is the sort of material that would be routinely released without hesitation by any other law enforcement agency.