More than 100 immigrants whom the Obama administration released back into the community went on to be charged with subsequent killings, according to government data released Monday that raises more questions about whether immigration authorities are doing enough to detail illegal immigrants awaiting deportation.
In one case, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement acknowledged that its agents didn’t find out about an illegal immigrant’s death threats and court injunctions against him — which should have put him back in detention — until after the man was accused of murder.
That case, involving Apolinar Altamirano, is the latest instance of someone who went through the Obama administration’s deportation system and was released, only to go on to be charged with major crimes.
ICE officials say they don’t regularly notify local authorities when they release an immigrant and don’t have a way of finding out from those authorities whether a former detainee gets into trouble with the law, so they didn’t know whether Mr. Altamirano’s $10,000 bond should have been revoked.
“ICE was not aware of the injunctions against Mr. Altamirano until after his January 22, 2015 arrest for first-degree murder, armed robbery and related offenses,” the agency said in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, and Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican in whose state the killing occurred.
All told, 121 immigrants who were held but eventually released by ICE went on to commit “homicide-related offenses” from 2010 through 2014, the agency said.
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It said 33 of those were ordered released by immigration courts and another 24 were released because of a 2001 Supreme Court decision capping the time an immigrant can be detained to six months. But a majority of the releases were at ICE’s discretion.
In a statement Monday, ICE said that a criminal record isn’t enough to qualify for mandatory detention under agency policies.
“When making custody determinations, ICE performs an individualized review of the individual’s immigration history and criminal history, pursuant to the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA),” the agency said. “In accordance with the requirements of the INA, not all criminals are subject to mandatory detention and thus may be eligible for bond.”
Detention cannot be used as a further punishment for their crimes or for being in the country illegally, but rather must be used as a tool for further deportation.
Still, ICE stiffened its policies this year, insisting that a supervisor approve cases when the agency plans to release immigrants with serious criminal records.
Even those released are usually monitored in some fashion, though The Washington Times reported last week that most of those under electronic monitoring violated some conditions of their release. Few violations were deemed serious enough to have their release revoked.
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Critics who have been pushing for stiffer immigration enforcement said the violence rate for released immigrants is probably much higher and the 121 charged are only those who have been caught.
“Illegal immigration is not a victimless crime,” said Maria Espinoza, co-founder of the Remembrance Project, which advocates for victims of crimes committed by immigrants. “This further supports what we have been fighting for. The safety and welfare of Americans must be the priority of the administration and the Republican-led Congress.”
Don Rosenberg, whose son was killed in a traffic accident by an illegal immigrant driving without a license, said the government lacks the willpower to deport people and to do it quickly.
“These people can and should be deported. We have that option, and we don’t want to take it, and this is what happens,” he said. “I guess until somebody who has the responsibility to make these decisions has one of their loved ones killed, it’s going to continue to happen.”
In the case of Mr. Altamirano, he was put in deportation proceedings on Jan. 3, 2013, and released after posting bond four days later. His first hearing before the immigration court wasn’t until April 9, 2014, and he was still awaiting a final deportation order in January this year when he was arrested on charges of shooting a convenience store clerk in Mesa, Arizona.
Mr. Grassley and Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican and chairman of the immigration subcommittee, are seeking answers from Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Secretary of State John F. Kerry.
The senators want to know why Mr. Kerry hasn’t put more pressure on other countries to take back their citizens whom the U.S. wants to deport. Under the 2001 Supreme Court ruling known as the Zadvydas case, the U.S. generally cannot detain foreigners longer than six months if their countries won’t accept them. Every year, thousands of immigrants are put back on the streets because of Zadvydas.
Republicans have long pressured the State Department — under President George W. Bush and now under President Obama — to use diplomatic tools such as denying visas to top officials try to force other countries to take back their citizens.
The Times reported that ICE releases hundreds of Cuban criminals into U.S. communities every year because the island nation refuses to take them back.