Last week, ICE officers in California took to the streets for four days to round up 244 criminal aliens who had been at large in six southern California counties. Billed by ICE as a “fugitive operation,” in fact the round-up was a sanctuary mop-up action. If the number of sanctuary jurisdictions continues to grow (there are now more than 310), and Congress does not take action, ICE increasingly will be obliged to do its important work in this manner. And that’s the way the Obama administration wants immigration enforcement to be: inefficient, expensive, and frightening to immigrants. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Until recently, the combination of universal fingerprint-sharing made possible through the Secure Communities program and generally cooperative local agencies meant that ICE officers had the ability (if not the mandate) to apprehend most every illegal alien who was arrested by local authorities. “It was almost a perfect system,” one ICE officer told me. “Almost no illegal aliens went through the jails [in our area] without us knowing about them.” Upon learning that an illegal alien had been booked into a local jail, ICE officers could issue a detainer notifying the jail that they intended to initiate deportation, and the locals would hold the alien in custody, as per federal regulations that are still in effect (8 CFR 287.7)
From January through August of 2014, nationwide, local sanctuaries released more than 8,000 criminal aliens that ICE was seeking to deport. More than 1,800 went on to commit new crimes within that eight-month period. ICE has re-apprehended only about 30 percent; the rest are still at large.
The Los Angeles Times profiled 32-year-old Hugo Medina, one of the illegal aliens the Riverside sheriff released, whom ICE had to locate and re-arrest. Medina had a lengthy rap sheet of convictions for several instances of drunk, unlicensed, uninsured driving; disorderly conduct; possession of controlled substances; theft, prior deportation; failure to appear in court; and more. He referred to these as “errors in judgment,” and vowed to return, if re-deported, to his wife and American-born children who were “traumatized” by ICE’s action.
The 244 criminal aliens that ICE was able to track down in last week’s operation are a drop in the bucket of sanctuary-related releases. Last year, there were more than 5,000 criminal aliens released by California jails, making up more than half the nationwide total of sanctuary releases. I am told that nowadays nearly all of the cases pursued by ICE street teams in southern California are criminals released by local jails despite receiving a detainer notice from ICE.
Congress must not allow the irresponsible policies of sanctuary jurisdictions to bog down ICE.
Not only does this situation put the public at risk from at-large criminals who should be deported, it is very expensive. I am told that one ICE officer can place 10 to 15 detainers in a day, with a couple of officers needed to take them into custody. But locating and arresting just one released criminal alien requires a lot more: one case officer to do the research and paperwork, at least two officers and a government vehicle to conduct five to eight hours or more of surveillance to home in on the subject, a trip back to the office to get the supervisor’s signature, another trip to the offender’s address to stake out and wait for him to leave his house, and potentially a public confrontation and chase that ensues upon contact.
Multiply this by hundreds of targets, and it becomes a major commitment of resources to re-arrest just a fraction of the criminal aliens who are now on the loose. I asked ICE whether it had calculated the cost of the four-day, six-county California operation, and was told it had not. But it is not hard to see that this is less efficient than processing criminal aliens before they are released, not to mention more dangerous. If you were an ICE officer, where would you rather arrest a gang member or cartel operative — in the jail, or at his house?There is a better way. Congress must not allow the irresponsible policies of sanctuary jurisdictions to bog down ICE any more than it is already hampered by the Obama administration’s relentless undercutting. It needs to clarify in law that local agencies may not obstruct ICE’s legitimate enforcement actions and sanction those that do. Further, since more than 90 percent of the nation’s sheriffs and police chiefs do still cooperate with ICE without issue, lawmakers should give them qualified immunity from the endless predatory lawsuits instigated by advocates for illegal aliens. And, Congress could thwart the Obama administration’s sandbagging of enforcement and rein in costs by requiring ICE to use more efficient forms of due process to remove criminal aliens. No one should be satisfied with H.R. 3009, the weak bill rushed through by House leadership earlier this summer, when all this and more is covered in the Davis-Oliver Act, named for two California deputies killed by an illegal-alien cartel operative last year.
— Jessica Vaughan is director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies.