(CNSNews.com EXCLUSIVE) - In the three fiscal years from 2007-2009, the Department of Homeland Security caught and released 481 illegal aliens from nations designated as state sponsors of terrorism and “countries of interest,” and those 481 aliens are now fugitives, according to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement database obtained by CNSNews.com as the result of a Freedom of Information Act request.
The four state sponsors of terrorism, as determined by the State Department, are Iran, Syria, Sudan and Cuba. The “countries of interest” are those additional countries whose citizens have been subjected to enhanced screening on U.S.-bound flights by the Transportation Security Administration as a result of the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Flight 253.
On Jan. 3, 2010, TSA said in a statement that the agency was “mandating that every individual flying into the U.S. from anywhere in the world who holds a passport issued by or is traveling from or through nations that are state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest will be required to go through enhanced screening.” TSA did not specify which nations it considered “countries of interest.”
But a Jan. 4, 2010 New York Times report, citing Obama administration officials, identified them as Afghanistan, Algeria, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen.
A report in USA Today that day, citing the TSA as the source, described the full list of nations whose citizens would be targeted for enhanced security checks as “14 countries with terrorism problems.”
The database that ICE provided to CNSNews.com includes the date that each illegal alien was taken into custody (booked in) by the federal government, the date they were released (booked out), which of the 24 regional ICE jurisdictions they were booked in, the status of the case (whether the person has been deported, the case against him has been withdrawn, or whether the case is still active, etc.), the category of the case (which includes whether the person is a fugitive), the gender of the alien and his or her country of citizenship. DHS withheld the names and birthdates of the aliens.
For the three fiscal years 2007, 2008 and 2009, the database shows that there are 481 “active” cases for “fugitives” from the 4 state sponsors of terror and 9 of the 10 “countries of interest.” There are no active fugitive cases for Libyan nationals.
The total number of active fugitive cases involving citizens from the four state sponsors and the 10 countries of interest include:
ICE Spokeswoman Gillian Brigham told CNSNews.com that a “fugitive” as listed in the database is defined as an individual who has been found legally deportable and has evaded authorities.
“A fugitive is an individual who has a final order of removal and has absconded,” Brigham said.
Although Cuba is named by the State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism, under U.S. law Cubans who escape from their native country and successfully reach U.S. soil are allowed to remain in the country. After one year and one day, they can apply for permanent resident status, which is granted unless the individual has committed a crime that could lead to deportation.
Brigham and Barbara Gonzalez, another spokeswoman with ICE, told CNSNews.com that the special status given to Cubans can be revoked for criminal conviction, but they could not confirm whether or not the 137 Cubans that were in ICE custody in fiscal 2007-2009 and are now listed as “fugitives” had criminal records.
When asked why illegal aliens from “countries of interest” or those from state sponsors of terrorism were released inside the United States after being detained, Brigham said that the number of illegal aliens undergoing immigration-law processing in the United States makes it impossible to keep all of them in custody.
“On any given day, the immigration detention system has about 32,000 beds available for people going through immigration proceedings,” Brigham said. “There are 1.6 million people going through some kind of immigration court proceeding. So you can’t detain everyone.”
Brigham said individuals that meet “mandatory detention” requirements, such as conviction for a certain classes of crimes, or who are determined to be a flight risk are the first to be assigned a detention space.
“We have to prioritize who we put in detention,” she said.
Of the 481 illegal aliens from state sponsors of terrorism and countries of interest who were initially detained in fiscal years 2007-2009 and who are now fugitives, 430 are male, 50 are female and the gender of one, according to the database, is “unknown.”
--Edwin Mora contributed to this report.