With little fanfare, the Obama administration has changed its policies regarding the handover of deportable federal prisoners to cities and counties with so-called “sanctuary” policies.
With the change, which Attorney General Loretta Lynch discussed during a House budget hearing on Wednesday, the Bureau of Prisons now allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), instead of states and municipalities, the first opportunity to take illegal aliens into custody and deport them.
“Particularly where we’re dealing with a jurisdiction that is not prone to honoring ICE detainers…our policy is going to be that ICE will instead have the first detainer and that individual will go into ICE custody and deportation,” Lynch told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies.
“We have in the past deferred because…we work with our state and local colleagues and we want to make sure that they can in fact adjudicate their cases as well,” Lynch added.
Texas Rep. John Culberson, who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee, indicated that he was pleased with the new policy.
“I’m delighted we’re headed in the same direction,” Culberson told Lynch.
Like most Republicans, Culberson is critical of the hundreds of cities and counties that have sanctuary policies on the books. The statutes prohibit local law enforcement agencies from cooperating with ICE when it files detainer requests for illegal aliens.
The sanctuary policies came under fire in July after Francisco Sanchez, a Mexican national with a lengthy felony record, shot and killed 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle in broad daylight while she was walking with her father on a pier in San Francisco.
In April, the Bureau of Prisons placed Sanchez in the custody of the San Francisco sheriff’s office, which had a marijuana case from the 1990s pending against him. But though ICE had submitted a detainer request in order to deport him, the sheriff complied with San Francisco’s sanctuary policies and released Sanchez back onto the streets.
He is currently awaiting trial.
In her testimony, Lynch also noted that the new policy — which was laid out in a letter obtained by Politico that the Justice Department sent to Culberson on Tuesday — will prevent some municipalities from prosecuting illegal aliens for crimes in their jurisdictions because they will be deported instead.
“This may have the effect that there may be local cases that may not be able to be prosecuted because, again, the person will be taken into ICE custody and then deported,” Lynch said.
She also said that if the Justice Department does decide to hand deportable prisoners over to local authorities, the agency will “have to have assurances that ICE would also then be able to get the individual back at the end of an adjudication so that the deportation process could go underway.”
In Tuesday’s letter to Culberson, assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik claimed that the Justice Department is working.
“Thus far, we are pleased with the way in which the new policy is being implemented,” Kadzik wrote.