Homeland Security has made some gains in detaining criminal aliens but still released into the community nearly 20,000 immigrants last year who’d already been convicted of crimes — including hundreds charges with sexual assault, kidnapping or homicide — according to figures sent to Congress this week.
Between them the aliens notched a total of 64,000 crimes, including 12,307 drunken driving convictions, 1,728 cases of assault, 216 kidnappings and more than 200 homicide or manslaughter convictions, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform ahead of a hearing Thursday.
“These are not just numbers. These are individuals in this country illegally who were arrested, prosecuted and convicted. But instead of removing these criminals, ICE put them back on American streets,” said Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz.
One of those released by ICE in 2015, Haitian illegal immigrant Jean Jacques, would go on to kill a young woman in Connecticut just months later, stabbing Casey Chadwick to death. Her mother, Wendy Hartling, will testify to the Oversight Committee alongside relatives of other victims of illegal immigrants’ crimes.
Jacques had previously served time for attempted murder and was supposed to have been deported after that. But ICE officials said he wouldn’t produce documents proving his identity, and Haiti refused to accept him without those documents. ICE said it had to release him instead.
Those kinds of releases have been a black eye for the administration in recent years, with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and ICE Director Sarah R. Saldana saying they need to do a better job of keeping serious criminals in custody as they await deportation.
And they have made some strides, reducing the number of criminal aliens released from 36,007 in 2013 to 30,558 in 2014, and then cutting the number by more than 10,000 last year.
About half of those released in 2015 were ordered set free on bond by immigration judges — folks over whom ICE says it has no control. Another 2,000 were released to comply with a 2001 Supreme Court decision putting a six-month cap on how long immigrants can be held in detention absent extenuating circumstances.
“The release of aliens on bond is clearly provided for by statute, and it would not be permissible for DHS to categorically prohibit the release of certain aliens who are not subject to mandatory detention under [the Immigration and Nationality Act], and who do not pose a risk to public safety or a flight risk,” ICE told the Oversight Committee in a memo laying out the numbers.
In 89 other cases, the administration couldn’t arrange travel documents to ship someone back home in time — such as in the case of Jacques.
But in more than 7,000 cases, ICE said the releases were done at its own discretion. Those are the cases that most irk lawmakers, who wonder why anyone with a criminal conviction on his or her record is allowed to walk back into the community.
ICE insists it still takes steps to keep tabs on the criminals it releases, including using electronic monitoring or requiring them to regularly check in with immigration officers to make sure they’re keeping their noses clean.
Immigrant rights advocates say immigrants break the law at a lower rate than the native-born, and accuse Republicans of tarring the whole community for the actions of a few.
Those who favor a crackdown, however, say it’s impossible to excuse illegal immigrants who commit crimes, since, if the government did its job, they never would have been in the country to commit those crimes in the first place.
The issue exploded onto front pages last summer with the death of Kathryn Steinle, who was shot while walking the San Francisco waterfront with her father. The illegal immigrant charged with her killing had been repeatedly deported but had snuck back into the U.S. and was free under San Francisco’s sanctuary city policy.
Then, earlier this year, Sarah Root, a 21-year-old woman from Iowa, was killed in Omaha, Nebraska, and police blamed an illegal immigrant they said was drag racing while drunk. Police tried to get ICE to hold the man, Eswin Mejia, but agents refused to pick him up, and he has now skipped out on his bond and is a fugitive.
ICE has struggled to explain that incident, with the agency first saying it was following President Obama’s policies. More recently, Ms. Saldana said that wasn’t true and that agents in the field made a mistake.
Mr. Mejia entered the U.S. as part of the surge of illegal immigrant children who were caught at the border over the last few years and who, under Obama administration policies, were sent to live with relatives rather than quickly deported.
In Mr. Mejia’s case, he was placed with his brother, also an illegal immigrant, who was already here.
In a letter to administration officials this week, senators demanded to know what steps the government takes to make sure it’s placing children with proper custodians, and whether social workers follow up to make sure the children are getting the right care.
Scott Root, the young woman’s father, is scheduled to testify to the Oversight Committee on Thursday alongside Ms. Hartling and Ms. Saldana.
“The common thread among the stories we are going to hear today is that each of them was preventable,” Mr. Chaffetz said in the prepared statement he will deliver at the hearing. “If ICE had only followed the law, it is highly likely these witnesses would not be sitting here today grieving the loss of a loved one.”