LOS ANGELES – More than 1,800 immigrants that the federal government wanted to deport were nevertheless released from local jails and later re-arrested for various crimes, according to a government report released Monday.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement report — obtained by an organization that actively opposes illegal immigration — said the re-arrested immigrants were among 8,145 people who were freed between January and August 2014, despite requests from federal agents that they be held for deportation.
The report provided by the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies says about 23 percent were eventually taken into custody again on a variety of charges.
"This is a genuine safety problem, and also a crisis for immigration enforcement"
- Jessica Vaughan, Center for Immigration Studies
Many jurisdictions have stopped honoring so-called immigration detainers, saying they can't hold arrestees without probable cause.
In a case drawing national attention to the issue, authorities say a woman was shot to death in San Francisco July 1 by a suspect who was released from jail despite an immigration detainer.
In the report, the top crimes for which immigrants were re-arrested were drug violations and drunken driving.
The report also cited six examples involving more serious offenses, including a San Mateo County case where an individual was arrested for investigation of five felony sex crimes involving a child under 14 after a detainer had been declined.
"This is a genuine safety problem, and also a crisis for immigration enforcement," said Jessica Vaughan, the center's director of policy studies. She added that the victims of what may appear to others to be less serious crimes still want to see the perpetrators held accountable.
More than 250 jurisdictions across the country have stopped fully honoring so-called immigration detainers, saying they can't hold arrestees beyond their scheduled release dates without probable cause. California and Connecticut have passed state laws to limit the use of immigration detainers and jails in states from Oregon to Iowa also refuse to honor the requests.
The controversy surrounding immigration detainers has re-entered the national spotlight since the shooting death of 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle on a San Francisco pier. Suspect Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez was released from jail in April even though immigration officials had lodged a detainer to try to deport him from the country for a sixth time.
In the last two weeks, a number of politicians and lawmakers have questioned the limits on the use of detainers. San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi has argued he was upholding local law and that detainers are not a legal way to keep someone in custody and have been proven to erode police relations with immigrant communities.
Immigrant advocates said federal immigration agents already have information about who is in local jails, and they can make the arrests on their own.
"It is not correct to point to the detainers as the reason why people are getting re-arrested," said Jennie Pasquarella, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. "ICE has had, and continues to have and develop its tools to be able to prioritize people who it believes are priority for removal, and to pick up those people."
Following the pushback on detainers, ICE has said it will focus on more serious criminals and ask law enforcement agencies to notify them when they're releasing immigrants from custody, if not actually hold them.
ICE officials did not immediately comment on the report.