An Iraqi refugee now charged with attempted murder of a Colorado police officer was actually in ICE custody in 2016, but was ordered released thanks to a court decision that ruled his previous convictions for assault and a host of other crimes weren’t serious enough to deport him.
Authorities say Karrar Noaman al Khammasi, charged last week after a shootout with Colorado Springs officers, could have been ousted from the country during the Obama administration, but for a series of judges’ rulings that set him free to continue a five-year-long crime spree.
His arrest also raises tough questions about the refugee program at a time when the Trump administration is eyeing major new constraints on the number of people let in each year.
Mr. Khammasi was admitted to the U.S. in 2012 as a refugee from Iraq, according to a Homeland Security official.
His first criminal encounters began a year later and he’s totaled at least nine encounters with police, The Colorado Springs Gazette reported.
Among those were drunken driving, trespassing, assault, extortion and illegally possessing a firearm.
He came across the radar of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in April 2016, when deportation officers put him into removal proceedings. A Homeland Security official said he was ordered deported on June 13, 2016.
But just months later the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling in the appeal of another deportation case finding the deportation law too vague when it came to defining crimes that rose to the level of getting legal immigrants deported.
After that case, Golicov v. Lynch, the Obama administration decided its deportation of Mr. Khammasi would also be overturned, so it reopened the case and released him from custody Nov. 7, 2016, according to a Homeland Security official.
Mr. Khammasi would quickly amass more criminal charges, culminating in last week’s attempted murder accusation.
Meanwhile court cases raged over the legal standard that had set him free.
The Trump administration appealed the 10th Circuit’s ruling, but the Supreme Court was already hearing a similar case out of the 9th Circuit, Sessions v. Dimaya. In May the high court issued its ruling, 5-4, agreeing with the 10th Circuit that the law was too vague to be enforced.
The government warned it would end up having to release criminals back onto the streets — and now in Mr. Khammasi they appear to have a concrete example.
“The ruling significantly undermines our efforts to remove aliens convicted of certain violent crimes, including sexual assault, kidnapping, and burglary, from the United States,” said the Homeland Security official. “By inhibiting ICE from establishing that such aliens are removable or ineligible for certain immigration benefits, Sessions v. Dimaya hampers our national security and allows criminal aliens who prey on our communities to remain in the country, making us more vulnerable as a result.”
At issue is what constitutes a “crime of violence,” which is the standard the law uses to determine when deportation is proper for a legal immigrant.
The Supreme Court ruled part of the test Congress set out, which designates felonies that involve risk of use of physical force, to be so vague as to be unconstitutional.
Congress could step in and clarify the law, but Washington has shown no ability to update immigration laws on other fronts — including the 2001 Zadvydas ruling that sets a limit on how long some immigrants who illegally enter the U.S. can be held in detention, and the 2015 updates to the Flores settlement that precipitated the recent border family separations.
As for Mr. Khammasi, his status as a refugee could also become an issue.
President Obama had pursued a massive expansion of the program, and insisted the program was safe.
Yet several Iraqi refugees were arrested on terrorism-related charges in 2016. One, who arrived in 2009, pleaded guilty to plotting attacks on Houston shopping malls, while another, who like Mr. Khammasi arrived in 2012, is awaiting trial on charges of assisting terrorists in Syria.
President Trump took office on a promise of reeling in the refugee program, saying he didn’t think the government able to weed out dangerous applicants from places such as Iraq and Syia, where vetting backgrounds can be difficult.
In addition to his travel ban, which tried to impose a temporary halt on refugees, Mr. Trump has also severely restricted the total number admitted.
He cut Mr. Obama’s cap from 110,000 in 2017 to 45,000 this year, and is reportedly eyeing a level of just 15,000 refugees next year.
The administration, though, says the government’s humanitarian commitment remains high, with the number of people seeking asylum from within the U.S. soaring, balancing out a drop in refugees accepted from outside the country.