Sanctuary cities make arresting criminal illegal immigrants harder, put officers at risk: DHS watchdog

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“Sanctuary” laws that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities are making it harder to arrest criminal illegal immigrants and are putting law enforcement officers in danger, a Department of Homeland Security watchdog found.

The report, by the Office of Inspector General, looked at the effect of legislation on Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Criminal Alien Program (CAP). In that program, ICE identifies matches between submitted biometric data of an arrestee and their criminal and immigration history. If there’s a match and they determine the arrestee is deportable, the agency issues a detainer -- a request that ICE be notified when the arrestee is released (and sometimes briefly held) so the illegal immigrant can be transferred into ICE custody for deportation proceedings.

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But that has been hampered by the rise of "sanctuary" cities and states that limit local and state agencies from honoring those detainers, meaning illegal immigrants are then released onto the streets. Liberal politicians who promote such policies claim that they encourage crime victims who are illegal immigrants to come forward and cooperate with police, eventually making everyone safer.

There have been a series of high-profile cases of illegal immigrants going on to commit horrific crimes after being released instead of being deported. Trump administration officials have repeatedly pointed to those cases in an effort to highlight the dangers of such policies. The administration has also sought to cut federal funding to such states, recently securing a legal win on that policy in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.

In the audit by the OIG, the watchdog focused on the damage such policies do to ICE’s ability to locate and remove illegal immigrants charged with or convicted of crimes -- and argues that it leads to more crimes eventually being committed.

“ICE’s inability to detain aliens identified through CAP who are located in uncooperative jurisdictions, results in increased risk those aliens will commit more crimes,” the report says. “Furthermore, having to arrest ‘at-large’ aliens may put officer, detainee, and public safety risk and strains ICE’s staffing resources.”

The report lays out some of the examples of crimes that have been committed by released illegal immigrants. Those examples include one released in December 2016 who was then rearrested the following July for felonies including rape, sodomy, kidnapping and robbery. He was eventually sentenced to 35 years in prison.

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The Trump administration has pointed to a number of examples of similar crimes. Perhaps the most high-profile in recent months was the case of Maria Fuertes, a 92-year-old grandmother who was sexually assaulted and killed in New York City -- allegedly by an illegal immigrant who had been released in November despite a detainer against him,

Ignoring ICE detainers is a practice, the report found, that is increasing dramatically across the country. ICE issued 165,500 detainers in FY 2019, an increase of 20 percent from FY 2014. But the number of detainers authorities declined to honor was 16,400, an 89 percent increase from FY 2014.

The report found that of 58,900 detainers declined/ignored between 2013 and 2019, ICE picked up about 70 percent of those individuals -- but 17,700 remain at large.

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The report says that not only does springing convicted or charged criminal aliens onto the street increase the risk they may re-offend, it also makes ICE’s job of nabbing them much harder -- as they have to go into homes and workplaces rather than a secure transfer in the controlled setting of a jail or prison.

“The number of uncooperative jurisdictions is growing, which challenges the CAP mission,” the report says before making recommendations. “Addressing challenges in researching criminal aliens, issuing detainers, and documenting and sharing case data in ICE automated systems would also increase CAP effectiveness.”

Among its recommendations include better documentation of enforcement and removal encounters, as well as developing a plan to “better align officer resources to take safely into custody at-large aliens released from uncooperative jurisdictions.” ICE accepted the latter recommendation, while noting that it had created "mobile criminal alien teams" in 2015 to work in uncooperative areas.