WASHINGTON – Illegal immigrants who were caught but released in the United States may have been re-arrested as many as six times, Justice Department data released Monday indicates.
The findings by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine are based on a sampling of 100 illegal immigrants arrested by local and state authorities in 2004, the latest complete data available. They show that 73 of the 100 immigrants were arrested, collectively, 429 times -- ranging from traffic tickets to weapons and drug charges.
Fine's office said its audit could not conclude precisely how many of the 262,105 illegal immigrants charged with criminal histories that year had been re-arrested. "But if this data is indicative of the full population of 262,105 criminal histories, the rate at which released criminal aliens are re-arrested is extremely high," the audit noted.
The audit is required by Congress last year, and parts of it were redacted because of security reasons. It looked at how local and state authorities that receive Justice Department funding to help catch and detain illegal immigrants are working with the Homeland Security Department.
It also examined the arrest rates of immigrants who were released -- usually because of insufficient jail space -- before they could be turned over to Homeland Security's bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In all, 752 cities, counties and states participating in the program received $287 million in 2005, the audit noted. Five states -- California, New York, Texas, Florida and Arizona -- received the bulk of the money, together pulling in more than $184 million.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff four months ago declared an end to the "catch and release" practice that for years helped many illegal immigrants stay in the United States unhindered.
At the time, the department was holding 99 percent of non-Mexican illegal immigrants in its custody until they could be returned to their home nations. The policy generally does not apply to Mexicans, who are almost immediately returned to Mexico after being stopped by Border Patrol agents.
The audit also looked at whether local and state authorities fully cooperated with Homeland Security efforts to remove illegal immigrants, and tried to determine how many had been released because of jail space or funding shortages. In both cases, Fine's office said it was unable to draw definitive conclusions.
It also found that at least one area -- San Francisco -- was receiving funding even though local policy specifically limits the information it gives to Homeland Security about immigration enforcement. San Francisco, which won $1.1 million, defines itself as a "city and county of refuge" and does not allow federal agents to view immigration jail records without permission from local police.
Assistant Attorney General Regina B. Schofield, who oversees the Office of Justice Programs, declined comment on the audit, noting it does not contain any recommendations.