Commentary: The Attorney General's disinformation on immigration enforcement
Last week in Litchfield Park, Ariz., the AG's prepared text included this: "Some mayors and city councils, and even a police chief and a sheriff here and there, are refusing to work with the federal government, choosing instead to protect the criminal aliens who harm public safety."
A few weeks earlier, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had begun releasing its Declined Detainer Outcome Reports to identify localities that do not continue to detain non-citizen inmates after their release dates so that ICE can pick them up.
After widespread criticism about its errors, ICE suspended the reports after issuing only three, but not before we learned a few things.
In connection with the first report, Attorney General Sessions stated: "It is not acceptable for jurisdictions to refuse to cooperate with federal law enforcement by releasing criminal aliens back into our communities when our law required them to be deported."
That single sentence contains at least two inaccuracies and a stroke of hypocrisy.
According to Sessions, it is acceptable "to refuse to cooperate with federal law enforcement" — and even to impede it — when votes are at stake.
In 2012, Senator Sessions supported a threat to cut funding for ICE in order to save fifty jobs and millions of dollars in revenue in his home state of Alabama. ICE had been looking to save money by moving some of its southern detention operations from Etowah County. But Senator Sessions and his colleagues felt that local politics was more important than the efficient removal of illegal aliens.
Citing an NBC News expos , the Equal Justice Institute wrote: "Alabama Representatives Robert Aderholt and Mike Rogers and Senators Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, all Republicans, reacted swiftly, emailing and meeting personally with high-level ICE officials. ... Gary Mead, ICE's executive associate director, wrote after meeting with Aderholt, 'I do not believe we will be allowed to leave Etowah without serious repercussions against our budget.' "
Has anyone asked Sessions about this?
Next, the disinformation.
The Attorney General claims that local jurisdictions are "releasing criminal aliens ... when our law required them to be deported." But the people he calls "criminal aliens" haven't necessarily committed crimes, and the targets of ICE detainers are not all subject to deportation (also called "removal").
The first ICE report lists 206 instances in which local jurisdictions declined to hold an inmate for the immigration agency. In addition to country of citizenship, the report indicates "notable criminal acitivity" for each person: "Domestic Violence (Conviction)," for example.
But in 116 of the 206 cases, the "notable criminal activity" is only the allegation of a crime: "Burglary (Charge)," for example, or "Assault (Charge)." In other words, being charged — no trial, no conviction — is treated as "notable criminal activity" by the Department of Homeland Security, ICE, and the Justice Department.
(In the second report, 30 of 47 cases were allegations only; and in the third, 38 of 65 were allegations only.)
Maybe none of this matters. If the aliens are in jail, why not hand them over to ICE, even if they haven't been convicted of anything? After all, says the Attorney General, "the law require[s] them to be deported."
Except it might not.
The ICE report fails to indicate the immigration status of the people it seeks to detain. Could they be legal aliens? What if they are not aliens at all?
The agency admits in the notes of the reports that "ICE does not document, in a systematically reportable manner, the immigration status of an alien at time of detainer issuance."
This matters because the agency regularly issues detainers on aliens who are lawful permanent residents (LPRs, or "green card" holders). But LPRs who have only been charged with a crime are not "required ... to be deported," as Sessions implies; they must be convicted of a crime and then ordered removed by an immigration judge.
ICE has also issued detainers for U.S. citizens; 693 U.S. citizens were held for ICE by local jails between 2007 and 2015, according to National Public Radio. ICE cannot legally remove U.S. citizens from the country.
The Declined Detainer Reports, whatever their future, have given us more evidence that current immigration policy only pretends to be about "public safety" and "lawful authority." Either the Attorney General does not understand this — or, more ominously, he does.
(Note: DHS Public Affairs has not responded to repeated requests for an explanation of its admitted lack of documentation on the immigration status of those it seeks to detain.)
Mark Dow is the author of "American Gulag: Inside U.S. Immigration Prisons." He teaches English at Hunter College in New York. Dow can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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