Immigration holds focusing more on criminals


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

The Clark County Detention Center is seen Friday, Sept. 27, 2013.

Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014 | 2 a.m.

Mirroring a nationwide trend, Metro Police and immigration officials overseeing Nevada are placing a higher proportion of immigration holds on people with previous criminal convictions, according to a recent report.

The report shows that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials nationwide are targeting more people with criminal convictions when issuing a detainer, a request to a local law enforcement agency to hold someone for up to 48 hours while immigration officials determine if they will take the subject into custody.

There is still a wide variance across the country in how immigration detainers are applied, according to the authors of the report, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University — and in the majority of cases, detainers are issued for people with either no previous conviction or a minor offense on their record.

The program has caught U.S. citizens in its net — for the first time the federal government is facing a lawsuit for violating the constitutional rights of a woman detained in Rhode Island.

Nationally, half of all detainers in fiscal years 2012 and 2013 were applied to people with criminal convictions, according to information obtained by TRAC. From 2008 to 2011, 23 percent were for people with a prior conviction, indicating a growing focus on criminal offenders.

For detainers issued from 2012-2013 in Nevada, 53 percent of the people had no prior convictions. Of the 4,065 issued, 2,645 were for people in custody at Clark County Detention Center. At the jail run by Metro Police, 56 percent of those with detainers had no prior convictions, the stated area of focus under federal guidelines updated in 2010.

“The data collected from our partners at ICE and from LVMPD show a successful track record of removal of criminal aliens from the Las Vegas community,” said Metro Deputy Chief Todd Fasulo, who oversees the detention center. “Our combined focus in the apprehension on convicted felons, repeat offenders, and other ICE priorities is in alignment with the vision of the LVMPD for the Las Vegas community to be the safest community in America.”

Fasulo added that ICE agents typically pick up subjects within hours of being notified by Metro Police, and the program has not affected the management of the jail.

Nevada is squarely in the middle of a widely varying program. On the extreme ends, 74 percent of detainers issued in Missouri are for people with no convictions and just 29 percent of the detainers in Idaho are for those with no convictions.

Prior to 2010, the guidelines also included those arrested on criminal charges, not just those found guilty.

In a previous study from TRAC that looked at fiscal years 2008 through 2011, 36 percent of detainers issued at the Clark County jail were for previously convicted criminals.

Click to enlarge photoClick to enlarge photo

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers arrest a suspected illegal immigrant in Santa Ana, Calif., in this 2007 file photo.

Nationwide, 12 percent of detainers are for people with Level 1 convictions, the most serious felonies, and 6 percent are applied to people with Level 2 convictions, some lesser felonies and multiple misdemeanors. The percentages for Nevada reflect the national figures.

A Migration Policy Institute report, which noted that Metro Police spend $1.3 million a year on personnel costs for specially trained officers who perform some duties normally reserved for federal immigration officers, lauded the Metro program as one that stood out nationally for its focus on the most dangerous people in the community, and for taking pains not to erode the relationship between immigrants and law enforcement.

“The way the program operates in three of our study sites, particularly Las Vegas, shows that it is possible to have a partnership between ICE and state or local law enforcement that does not substantially threaten or intimidate immigrant communities,” the authors of the report state.

Immigrant advocates and Hispanic organizations have criticized such programs for fomenting distrust between local law enforcement and immigrant communities, reducing the likelihood that crimes will be reported.

“ICE detainers presume the person being held is guilty, thus violating the Constitution’s search and seizure protections and guarantee of due process,” American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada executive director Tod Story said. “Holding someone without cause or evidence and then looking for evidence is exactly what the Constitution seeks to prevent. U.S. citizens and innocent individuals have frequently been detained without due process, because of faulty record keeping, mistaken identity or racial profiling.”

TRAC also notes in a recent report that between 2008 and 2012, 834 U.S. citizens, including 10 in Nevada, were held on an immigration detainer, a violation of the law. Last week, a federal judge allowed a suit against the government to proceed in which a U.S. citizen is seeking damages for being held under an immigration detainer.

“Since these agreements are optional for Las Vegas Metro and every police department, we should rescind these agreements,” Story said. “Police departments who enter into these agreements are liable for their actions, and police officers should not be doing the work of the federal government; they are needed to serve and protect the people of our local communities.”

The federal government has continually revised the priorities when issuing detainers, increasingly focusing on serious criminals. Detainers may also be issued for people who already have a deportation order or for someone who was deported and illegally re-entered the country, a felony. Not everyone for whom a detainer is issued is taken into federal custody, but the extra time provides immigration officials an opportunity to research a particular person’s case before they are released.

In fiscal year 2013, 98 percent of the 360,313 deportations ICE executed were for people who met one or more of the agency’s enforcement priorities.

“ICE is focused on sensible, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes the removal of criminal aliens and those apprehended at the border while attempting to unlawfully enter the United States,” ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said.

In fiscal year 2013, ICE deported a record 216,810 convicted criminals, 110,115 from the interior of the country, nearly double the number of criminal aliens removed in fiscal year 2008.

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