Obama Preparing to Stop ICE From Targeting Immigration Offenders

By Jessica M. Vaughan on March 18, 2014

On Friday, a DHS official leaked to the Los Angeles Times hints of two policy changes in the works to further reduce deportations. If implemented, we can expect deportations to drop by tens of thousands per year, and the communities where they are released can expect them to renew the criminal activity that caused them to be referred to ICE in the first place.

The first change apparently being considered would be to stop deporting illegal aliens whose "only" convictions have been for immigration offenses.

Some immigration violations are quite serious, although anti-enforcement groups like to give the impression that they are the equivalent of jaywalking. For example, alien smuggling is an immigration offense, as is international child abduction, and immigration fraud.

But perhaps most important to the anti-enforcement grievance groups, this policy change would stop ICE from removing illegal aliens who have been deported before. ICE agents would be forced to look the other way at illegal aliens committing a federal felony offense that is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, depending on the circumstances. Similarly, agents would have to ignore illegal aliens who abscond from immigration court hearings.

The proposed policy could prevent ICE from removing war criminals and terrorists, not to mention suspected sex offenders, gang members, and cartel operatives who for whatever reason have not been prosecuted or convicted of crimes, but who have immigration violations that enable ICE to kick them out.

It is an immigration violation for an illegal alien to possess a gun. Presumably that would cease to be a basis for removal under this policy, and one less tool for ICE agents to use against violent gangs.

The second change being considered would apparently limit the number of illegal aliens who could be detained after coming to ICE's attention after a local arrest.

These are not small changes. Their effect would be to allow illegal aliens who are detected after committing crimes to remain at large, potentially continuing criminal activity and putting the public at risk. Illegal aliens who commit offenses that are rarely prosecuted or are dismissed, such as identity theft and traffic offenses, would suffer no consequences. These changes would welcome back all those who the U.S. government has already taken the time, effort, due process, and expense to process before, and invite still more to skip immigration hearings in further contempt of the law.

Immigration enforcement, especially in the interior, has already deteriorated to the point where perhaps 90 percent of the illegal aliens in the country now face no threat of deportation, thanks to the administration's "prosecutorial discretion" policies.

The number of aliens deported from the interior has dropped 40 percent since 2011, despite the fact that ICE agents are encountering more criminal aliens than ever before, as a result of better information sharing with local police and jails.

If the first proposed change barring ICE from removing non-criminal immigration violators were to be implemented, ICE would end up removing significantly fewer illegal aliens. In 2013, ICE removed 23,436 who fell into this category, representing 17 percent of interior removals. These included 10,358 repeat immigration violators, 10,336 first-time immigration violators, and 2,742 immigration fugitives. It is worth repeating that the vast majority of these individuals were referred to ICE because of a local arrest.

It is unclear how the second proposed change, limiting detention of arrested illegal aliens, would affect operations. Already less than 2 percent of ICE's caseload is detained (less than 33,000 aliens out of 1.8 million). More than three-fourths of current immigration detentions are mandated by statute — such as cases of violent felons who re-enter after deportation. ICE already releases and/or declines to process more than 70 percent of the aliens encountered by officers, even though most are discovered as a result of the alien's involvement in criminal activity, and most are deportable.

This is all political fun and games for the White House, designed to mollify the anti-enforcement grievance groups who are demanding an end to all deportations — until someone gets killed. And that's not hyperbole. A 2012 study initiated by the House Judiciary committee with subpoenaed data from ICE found that 59 murders were committed over a 2.5 year period by illegal aliens who had been referred to ICE but were released instead of charged.

Prosecution of immigration violators — regardless of criminal convictions — is important not only for public safety reasons, but because it helps maintain the integrity of our immigration system. To ignore repeated violations simply invites more lawbreaking, and is profoundly unfair to those trying to navigate our legal immigration system.