ICE Has Released More Than 8,000 Criminal Illegal Aliens Into U.S. Since 2009

By Penny Starr | May 31, 2011 | 7:09pm EDT

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has introduced a bill that he said is needed to protect Americans from criminal illegal immigrants who are being released into U.S. communities based on a Supreme Court decision that said they can't be incarcerated for more than six months. ( Starr)

( – The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which is responsible for enforcing U.S. immigration laws inside the country, has released more than 8,000 illegal aliens convicted of crimes onto the streets of the United States since fiscal 2009, according to ICE data released by House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R.-Texas).

Citing these statistics, Smith has introduced legislation that would allow Homeland Security’s ICE to keep criminal illegal aliens in custody longer than the current six-month period established by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The “Keep Our Communities Safe Act”  is “desperately needed,” Smith said at a hearing about the bill on May 24 because of two high court rulings that said immigrants--and later illegal immigrants--could not be detained for more than six months, if efforts to return the immigrant to his or her home country failed.

The result, Smith said, are thousands of criminal illegal immigrants being released in the United States.

“In 2006, the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General reported that thousands of criminal immigrants with final orders of removal were being released into our streets because some countries frustrate the removal process,” Smith stated in his prepared remarks at the hearing.

Smith said the IG found that nearly 134,000 immigrants with final orders of removal instead had been released into U.S. communities from 2001 to 2004. The IG report also found that these illegal immigrants were unlikely to ever be repatriated because of the unwillingness of their home country to provide necessary travel documents.

“As of June 2004, more than 133,662 illegal aliens with or pending final orders of removal had been apprehended and released into the U.S. and who are unlikely to ever be repatriated if ordered removed because of the unwillingness of their country of origin to provide the documents necessary for repatriation,” the report states.

The 2006 report also says:  “Currently, (Detention and Removal Operations) is unable to ensure the departure from the U.S. of all removable aliens. Of the 774,112 illegal aliens apprehended during the past three years, 280,987 (36%) were released largely due to a lack of personnel, bed space, and funding needed to detain illegal aliens while their immigration status is being adjudicated. This presents significant risks due to the inability of Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and ICE to verify the identity, country-of-origin, and terrorist or criminal affiliation of many of the aliens being released.”

Although the 2006 IG report detailed the release of both criminal and non-criminal illegal immigrants, it did not break down those numbers. At the hearing, Smith distributed a spreadsheet on more recently released aliens that ICE had provided to his office.

This spreadsheet lists the number of “non-criminal” and “convicted criminal” illegal immigrants released by ICE in fiscals years 2009, 2010, and year-to-date 2011 under the rules of the Zadvydas v. Davis Supreme Court decision.

The ICE statistics show that the agency released 3,847 convicted criminal aliens in 2009; 3,882 in 2010; and 1,012 so far in 2011.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The data also show the citizenship country of the convicted criminal and non-criminal illegal immigrant. For example, in FY2009, 74 convicted criminal illegal immigrants from Somalia were released in the United States. Somalia is one of the 10 countries the U.S. government has designated “countries of interest” because of believed ties to terrorism.

Another 79 convicted criminal illegal immigrants from Somalia were released in 2010, according to the data.

According to the ICE spreadsheet, 36 convicted criminal illegal immigrants from the Sudan were released. Sudan is one of four countries the U.S. State Department considers a state sponsor of terror.

Smith cited cases in which a released immigrant shot a New York trooper, and another in which a released immigrant shot and killed Ft. Meyer police officer Andrew Widman, who left behind a wife and three children.

Gary Mead, executive associate director of enforcement and removal operations at ICE, told a House Judiciary subcommittee in testimony that illegal immigrants have been released who had committed crimes, “including, but not limited to, arson, assault, property damage, extortion, forgery or fraud, homicide, kidnapping, weapons offenses, embezzlement, controlled substance offenses, and sexual offenses.”

But, Mead said, part of ICE’s mission is “assuring that aliens released on orders of supervision comply with the conditions of their release.”

Mead also said that procedures are in place that allow for a longer detention by order of an immigration judge, if the individual is deemed “especially dangerous” based on a “mental condition or personality disorder and behavior associated with the disorder” to “ensure the safety of the public.”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), a member of the subcommittee, spoke out against Smith's bill.

“The Supreme Court has twice warned of the serious constitutional concerns that would be presented if our immigration laws authorized the indefinite and possibly permanent detention of civil immigrant detainees,” Lofgren said at the hearing. “In Zadvydas v. Davis [the first Supreme Court case that did not include consideration for illegal immigrants], the court said that ‘freedom from imprisonment--from government custody, detention or other forms of physical restraint--lies at the heart of the liberty that [the due process] clause protects.’”

Ahilan T. Arulanantham, deputy legal director with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said Smith’s bill would cause the incarceration of immigrants who would otherwise help the economy.

“Creating a vast new federal detention authority, as the legislation under consideration is guaranteed to do, would result in the unnecessary detention of thousands more individuals who would otherwise contribute to the economy, serve their communities and support their families, which often include U.S. citizen children and spouses,” Arulanantham said in a statement.

“This legislation is desperately needed,” Smith said. “There is no excuse for needlessly placing American lives at risk.”

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano has stated numerous times over the course of her tenure that removing criminal aliens was a priority of the Obama administration, including in November 2009 when she introduced the Secure Communities initiative.

“Secure Communities provides our local partners with an effective tool to identify and remove dangerous criminal aliens who pose a threat to public safety,” Napolitano said. “We will continue to expand these partnerships to provide a force multiplier for ICE's immigration enforcement efforts across the country.

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