ICE Allowed the Release of 890 Imprisoned Deportable Aliens, Convicted of Serious Crimes, Into U.S. in FY 2009

February 9, 2011 - 5:01 AM

illegal immigrants deported

These illegal immigrants, deported to Mexico on Wednesday, July 28, 2010, are shown near the Nogales Port of Entry in Sonora, Mexico. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

(CNSNews.com) - Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) failed to identify more than 800 criminal alien convicts eligible for deportation before they were released from U.S. prisons, including “many” of  “the most egregious criminal aliens, who pose a significant pubic safety risk,” according to a report by the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

According to the report, released on Feb. 4, ICE’s Criminal Alien Program, or CAP, “is responsible for identifying criminal aliens incarcerated in federal, state, and local prisons and jails who are eligible for removal from the United States.”

In fiscal year 2009, CAP failed to identify 890 criminal aliens eligible for removal from the United States, according to the report. These criminals had been incarcerated in facilities in Texas and California and were released back into U.S. society.

A criminal alien eligible for removal is a person who is in the United States illegally and is subsequently convicted of a crime or was a legal permanent residents convicted of a removable offense, such as murder and other felonies. 

Once an alien is identified as removable, ICE issues a “detainer” for that individual, which notifies correctional facilities of “ICE’s intent to take custody of an individual in that facility for the purpose of instituting removal proceedings.”

According to the Immigration Policy Center, “If ICE does not take custody within 48 hours, the detainer automatically lapses, and the state/local law enforcement agency is required to release the individual.”

ICE’s Criminal Alien Program is available at all state and federal prisons, in addition to more than 300 local jails throughout the country. ICE requested nearly $200 million for CAP in FY 2010, approximately $50 million more than it was allotted four years earlier.

The Inspector General (IG) report focused on cases involving alien inmates held in federal custody throughout the United States and in state custody in California, Texas, and New York. Those states hold about 64 percent of the foreign-borne U.S. inmate population.

“ICE, through CAP, was successful in identifying 99% of the criminal aliens eligible for removal from the United States in federal custody during FY 2009,” the report stated. “However, identification rates in two of the four states reviewed were not as high. ICE agents did not identify approximately 4% of criminal aliens eligible for removal in California and 2% in Texas.”

The audit later added that the Texas and California FY 2009 rates of non-identified criminal aliens translate to “890 (262 federal and 628 state) out of a total population of 49,033.”

“Many of the 890 criminals are believed to have been Level 1 recidivist criminals,” the report added. “Level 1 are the most egregious criminal aliens, who pose a significant pubic safety risk.”

Level 1 offenses, according to the report, include homicide, kidnapping, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, threats, extortion, sex offenses, cruelty toward family, resisting an officer, illegal weapon possession, hit and run, and drug offenses accompanied by sentences of more than a year.

The audit blamed the “non-identification” of the 890 aliens specifically on ICE agent “staffing challenges,” such as vacancies and “increasing workload levels” created by other criminal alien identification programs. 

According to the report, ICE may have missed vetting some incarcerated criminal aliens eligible for removal because agents are not required to record aliens’ immigration status.

ICE agents “do not always record and retain critical information and documentation used to determine the status of foreign-born inmates incarcerated in federal and state prisons,” the report stated. “This is because ICE procedures do not require agents to record and retain such information.”

“As a result, ICE is unable to provide assurance that its [Criminal Alien Program] agents are screening all potentially removable foreign-born inmates incarcerated in federal and state correctional facilities,” the report continued.

According to the IG report, the screening under the criminal alien removal program refers to “electronic records check and interview that [ICE] agents may conduct to determine if a foreign-born inmate is removable.”

“Rosters of either self-proclaimed foreign-born inmates or all inmates incarcerated” at the state level are sometimes discarded, according to the audit, because ICE agents are not required to keep copies of those documents.

“Without these rosters, ICE cannot verify the number, type, and location of foreign-born inmates identified at federal and state facilities,” the IG report stated.

According to the job description for ICE agents working under the Criminal Alien Program, those agents “are expected to devote 75 percent of their time to detention, deportation, transportation, and escorting, leaving little time for screening and identification duties,” according to the report.

ICE concurred with the IG report recommendations of conducting 100 percent screenings of all criminal aliens and enforcing the retention of all screenings and identifications of foreign-born inmates.

“ICE estimates that 300,000 to 450,000 criminal aliens who are eligible for removal are detained each year at federal, state, and local correctional facilities,” the IG report stated.