Federal immigration officers released another 30,000 immigrants with criminal records last year, following the 36,000 it released in 2013, the government announced Wednesday — though it promised to take steps to cut down on the problem.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that handles detention and removal of illegal immigrants, said it will no longer allow overcrowding to be the main reason a dangerous illegal immigrant is released, and will require a top supervisor to approve the cases of any serious criminals that officers want to release.
Overall, ICE released 30,558 criminal aliens in fiscal year 2014, which is down from the 36,007 criminals released a year before.
The 2013 releases prompted an outcry, and the latest news that the releases continue is likely to renew the calls for ICE to get a handle on its actions.
New ICE Director Sarah R. Saldana said the number “still concerns me.”
“I am determined to continue to take every possible measure to ensure the public’s safety and the removal of dangerous criminals,” she said in announcing the new steps.
ICE said it had little discretion over most of the criminals it released. The agency said that under a previous court decision, immigrants whose home countries won’t take them back cannot be held indefinitely, so they have to be released after a period of time.
Republicans in Congress have proposed rewriting the law to allow for longer detention of serious criminals, and they have called on the Obama administration to use existing powers to deny visas to leaders of countries that refuse to take their citizens back.
But the administration has declined to take those steps.
Those released from custody are generally supposed to be monitored, and Ms. Saldana vowed to stiffen those procedures to try to ensure those that are released are not able to commit new crimes.
ICE didn’t release a breakdown of criminal offenses of the new 30,000 on Wednesday, but among the 36,000 released in 2013 were 193 homicide convictions, 426 sexual assault convictions, 303 kidnapping convictions and 16,070 convictions for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
ICE said that most of the homicide convictions were court-ordered.
Jessica Vaughan, policy director at the Center for Immigration Studies, which exposed the first batch of 36,000 releases, said Wednesday that giving supervisors more review of each case isn’t a solution, it’s the root of the problem.
“In fact, it’s the supervisors who are ordering the releases, and the intent of the supervision is to make sure that officers in the field are not detaining people — not the other way around,” she said. “The problem is most definitely the policies, not the officers. Creating more levels of review and red tape is not going to solve that problem.”
She said having more supervision of those released is a good step, but said it’s even more cost-effective to use expedited removal to kick criminals out of the country faster. She said ICE’s own analysis has found that using alternatives to detention, such as electronic monitoring or a phone-in system, turns out to be expensive because it results in drawn-out cases and more fugitives who abscond.
Ms. Vaughan said one reason for the drop from 36,000 to about 30,000 is because immigration agents are arresting and detaining fewer aliens in the first place, thanks to President Obama’s new immigration plans.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson late last year acknowledged the high number of releases for a second year in a row.
“I believe it should be lower,” he said.
Mr. Johnson said money should never be a reason for releasing someone with a serious criminal record back onto the streets.