As debate around immigration heats up around the country, one group is pointing to figures that they say prove undocumented immigrants pose a public safety problem.
More than 1,800 immigrants that the federal government wanted to deport from the United States but were nonetheless freed from local jails were re-arrested later for various crimes, according to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) report made public Monday.
The document, obtained by the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, said the re-arrested immigrants were among 8,145 people released between January and August 2014, amid requests from federal agents that they be held for deportation.
The publication of the report follows the fatal shooting of a California woman by an undocumented immigrant who was released from jail despite an immigration detainer – a request to keep an immigrant in custody. Francisco Sanchez, the Mexican national accused of killing Katherine Steinle as was she took a stroll along a popular San Francisco waterfront area, had been deported five times and served time in federal prison.
The incident has fueled an already deeply partisan dispute about key immigration policies, particularly the sanctuary movement: Most major US cities have passed ordinances or executive orders that prevent municipal employees and police from assisting ICE efforts to investigate or arrest illegal immigrants, The Christian Science Monitor’s Harry Bruinius reported.
Progressives and others who support sanctuary efforts see the decades-long movement as a humanitarian and pragmatic approach, Mr. Bruinius noted.
“The purposes of these policies is effective law enforcement and the belief that immigrants are more likely to cooperate with police if they are not likely to be deported by cooperating with them,” Kevin Johnson, dean of the University of California, Davis, School of Law, told the Pleasanton Weekly, a community paper based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Opponents, however, see the shooting as a cautionary tale about what could happen under sanctuary policies – a tale that the ICE report supports, according to Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies.
Ten percent of the re-arrests had to do with drug violations, and 7 percent were related to driving under the influence, the report found. Six examples involved more serious offenses that occurred after a detainer was declined, including one where an individual was arrested for investigation of five felony sex crimes involving a child under 14.
These cases, Ms. Vaughan wrote, prove that there is a need for federal laws that compel local law enforcement agencies to comply with all ICE detainers, or else face sanctions in federal funding.
“Local refusal to comply with ICE detainers has become a public safety problem in many communities, and a mission crisis for ICE that demands immediate attention,” according to Vaughan.
Others, such as San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, have argued that detainers are not a legal way to keep someone in custody and have been proven to erode police relations with immigrant communities.
In March, ICE Director Sarah Saldaña told Congress she would support legislation that would force local authorities to cooperate with her agents as they seek to identify and possibly deport illegal immigrants, Bruinius reported. But she backtracked after facing an onslaught of criticism.
“Any effort at federal legislation now to mandate state and local law enforcement’s compliance with ICE detainers will, in our view, be a highly counterproductive step and lead to more resistance and less cooperation in our overall efforts to promote public safety,” Ms. Saldaña said in a statement.