Washington D.C. – Last December, President Obama announced that ICE detainers would focus primarily on immigrants who are violent criminal offenders. But a recent report shows that the majority of immigrants in detention centers are there for minor offenses.
Analysis of federal data showed that only one out nine immigration detainees actually pose a threat to public safety. The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) data compiled by Syracuse University actually found that fewer detainers were issued for immigrants who have a record of criminal activity and most of the immigrants subjected to detainers have not committed any crimes.
In contrast, the majority of detainers that were issued in the six months since the administration’s announcement of “prosecutorial discretion” have been placed on individuals for minor offenses such as traffic violations and DUI charges.
Only 38 percent of the individuals for whom immigration detainers have been issued have a criminal history. The majority, 47 percent, of detainers issued between January 2013 and June 2013 were for individuals with no criminal offenses, traffic violations or DUIs.
Immigration detainers are issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and requires local law enforcement agencies hold an immigrant for 48 hours until agents can pick them up. If federal agents fail to pick up the immigrant within 48 hours, they are let go, but if they are picked up they face months in detention and possible deportation.
President Obama has been heavily criticized by immigration advocates for deporting record levels of undocumented immigrants. Since he took office, his administration has averaged 400,000 deportations each year and he is poised to reach his two-millionth deportation sometime in 2014, Think Progress reported.
The DHS stated that their limited resources would be better used to apprehend violent criminal offenders who pose a threat to the communities in which they live, but that policy is not being adhered to. The disparity in policy and practice seems to come from field offices who issue the detainers, even though the agents have been reminded twice to use “prosecutorial discreation.”
This has compelled some law enforcement agencies, to refuse holding undocumented immigrants who have not committed serious criminal offenses.
Last December, Los Angeles said they would no longer hold immigrants for minor offenses. And earlier this week San Francisco actually made it illegal for law enforcement agencies to honor detainers unless the immigrant has committed a serious crime.
Immigration reform that would allow a pathway to citizenship could prevent hundreds of thousands deportations, but legislators have been deadlocked for months on the issue.
Although the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill in June, the House has made little progress on the issue of immigration reform, and aren’t in any hurry to do so. With the government shutdown and the upcoming debt ceiling debate, there is some concern that the House will not pass meaningful reform this year and will continue to delay legislation until the 2014 midterm elections are over. If they wait that long, it may never come to fruition.