- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2015

U.S. officials have little idea whether some illegal immigrants commit crimes or flee from authorities after being set free by law enforcement, a new report has found.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, uses a process called the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program for some illegal immigrants as an alternative to detention. Immigrants are released with an expectation that they will return for their court appearances, and they are closely monitored by immigration officials.

Only officials haven’t always been keeping track of the participants, said a report released this week by the Homeland Security Department’s internal watchdog, the Inspector General. That makes it difficult to know if the program is working.

“ICE cannot definitively determine whether the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program has reduced the rate at which aliens, who were once in the program but who are no longer participating, have absconded or been arrested for criminal acts,” the IG’s report said.

On top of that, the agency’s procedures are “not effective in determining which aliens to release or under what conditions,” investigators said.

Among the problems, immigration officials asked illegal immigrants if they had a medical condition that could affect their attention or release. But some officers relied simply on the immigrant’s answers without conducting a medical evaluation, the report said.

ICE officials agreed with all of the investigator’s recommendations, and said they are working to update their record keeping and clarify their decisions about inmate release.

“ICE will continue to assess existing data and data collection methods with a view to more specifically identifying the challenges that need to be overcome,” said a response by the agency.

The process for evaluating the risks of releasing illegal immigrants was changed and updated in January 2014, and a further update is expected for July that would “allow for more efficient processing,” officials said.

Agency leaders have ordered field offices to re-arrest any illegal immigrant who’s committed a crime or tried to run, but investigators said there isn’t enough money to buy beds for all the offenders.

Indeed, the program was started because ICE didn’t have the capability to detain all the people it was tasked with tracking. There are nearly 2 million illegal immigrants currently in the process of being removed from the U.S., the IG said, but only 34,000 detention beds available.

So instead, the agency’s Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations decided to release some immigrants on their own recognizance before their trial, so long as most wore an ankle monitor with GPS tracking.

The rate at which immigrants committed a crime or tried to run while being monitored averaged out to about 12 percent each year between 2010 and 2012, the agency said.

But in 2012, ICE changed the way it operates the system, including stopping the monitored release of immigrants deemed a high flight risk, or the release of criminals who’s home countries would not take them back.

Record keeping, however, did not keep up with the changes, so law enforcement officials have little info on what parts of the program are working and which aren’t, the IG said.

• Phillip Swarts can be reached at pswarts@washingtontimes.com.

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