The Buzz

In 2015, 19,000 Criminal Illegal Immigrants Were Released From Custody

More than 19,000 criminal illegal immigrants were released from custody in 2015, according to new figures disclosed by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.

The 19,723 criminal releases—as the government refers to them—represent a 35 percent decrease from fiscal year 2014.

The phrase “criminal releases” can apply to a wide range of crimes, including traffic violations—such as driving without a license—to more serious offenses like sexual assault, rape, and murder. Their crimes include misdemeanors and felonies.

According to the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for less immigration, the 19,723 criminal releases had a total of 64,197 convictions among them. More than 200 of those were homicide convictions. Most are traffic offenders.

On Thursday, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform convened a hearing to investigate the government’s process for detaining and removing illegal immigrants who’ve committed new crimes after arriving in the U.S.

Members of the Republican-led committee questioned ICE Director Sarah Saldana, and listened to testimony from the families of two victims who were killed by criminally convicted illegal immigrants.

“These are people that were here illegally, got caught committing a crime, were convicted of that crime and instead of deporting them, they were just released back out in the United States of America,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

As lawmakers questioned Saldana, she expressed regret for the murder of Connecticut resident Casey Chadwick and death of Iowa resident Sarah Root, who was killed by a drunk driver. But Saldana also said the government’s numbers, and the process of how and why criminal releases occur, are more nuanced than Chaffetz and other critics suggested.

“As a human being and a mother, never mind a person with prosecutorial experience, I feel very strongly whenever someone is injured or murdered by any person, and certainly by someone in the immigration system,” Saldana said.

“When the chairman says we just decided to let them out on the streets and chose not to deport them, that’s misleading. To sit there and say the proud men and women law enforcement agents of ICE are choosing to release criminals is absolutely unforgivable.”

As Saldana explained, only one-third of the 19,723 criminal releases were the sole discretion of ICE.

The other two-thirds were released either because an immigration court judge had decided to grant bond to the immigrant, or because the home country of a person ordered deported refused to take that person back.

Saldana frequently cited a 2001 Supreme Court decision, Zadvydas v. Davis, which said a criminal illegal immigrant cannot be detained indefinitely if that person’s country of origin declines to accept his repatriation.

The Center for Immigration Studies reports that as of Jan. 2016, the following countries were designated by ICE as “uncooperative” in accepting deportees: Afghanistan, Algeria, Burundi, Cape Verde, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, India, Iran, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, and Zimbabwe.