Obama administration guidelines issued in December calling for immigration detainers to be reserved for the most dangerous foreign nationals are going largely ignored, according to a new analysis of federal data.
Fewer than 10 percent of detainers actually targeted people who are considered a threat to public safety and national security, contrary to the stated objective of the new guidelines, said a report by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC.
Slightly more than a third, or 38 percent, of people who had detainers requested for them had a record of a criminal conviction, including minor traffic violations, the report said.
“If traffic violations (including DWI) and marijuana possession violations are excluded, then only one-quarter (26 percent) of the individuals against whom detainers were issued had any conviction,” said the report.
“In fact, comparing agency data from both before and after the new [federal immigration] guidelines were issued reveals that fewer — not more — individuals on whom detainers were placed have had any record of criminal activity, let alone serious criminal conduct.”
A detainer is the term used for requests that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency sends to local police asking them to hold immigrants who are arrested so that ICE can take them into custody. Many police agencies, however, have said they will no longer honor ICE requests to hold immigrants who are not violent offenders.
The new TRAC analysis brought criticism against the Obama administration, which has presided over a record number of deportations, with some 400,000 each year since he took office in 2008.
In 2010 and 2011, ICE officials said they would shift their enforcement priorities to target people who were a threat to public safety or national security. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano had said at the time that the reprioritizing would result in a better use of resources. But the new strategy entirely took hold, the report noted.
"Actual agency detainer practices in the field were often at variance with the Obama Administration's announced priorities,” it said.
President Obama promised – when running for office in 2008, and again in 2012 – to overhaul the immigration system. That promise was seen as a factor in the huge support he received from Latino and Asian-American voters both election years.
But efforts to pass immigration reform bills that would tighten enforcement and provide a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants failed in his first term. The Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill in June.
But efforts to draft legislation stalled in the House, where conservative Republicans have vowed not to pass any measure that gives undocumented immigrants a chance to legalize. They consider a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants “amnesty” or a reward for lawbreakers. On Wednesday, House Democrats unveiled a comprehensive immigration reform bill, but the chances of Republican support for it are widely viewed as remote.
Immigration reform supporters, including some Republicans, of provisions to offer a legal pathway say that deporting the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants is impossible as well as not in the interest of the United States, which depends to some extent on such people to do certain jobs.
"The Obama Administration's approach to immigration has spelled disaster for immigrant communities,” said Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, in a statement.
“No matter what talking points the President repeats, the data shows complete disregard for priorities, an expansion of the deportation dragnet, and more innocent people being ripped from their families,” Alvarado said. “The memos and guidelines issued from ICE leadership have served as little more than political smokescreens for the public and as toilet paper for ICE agents in district offices… [Obama] will be remembered as the Deporter-in-Chief and not the great reformer he has promised to be."
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente