One-hundred twenty-one illegal aliens with criminal convictions who were released by federal immigration authorities back onto U.S. streets between 2010 and 2014 have been charged with “homicide-related” crimes.
That’s according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which released data in response to a letter sent in February by Senate Judiciary chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Arizona U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake.
The senators sent the letter after Mexican national Apolinar Altamirano allegedly gunned down Grant Ronnebeck, a Mesa, Ariz. convenience store clerk, over a pack of cigarettes on Jan. 22. ICE released Altamirano in Jan. 2013 on $10,000 bond related to a burglary charge. After his release, Altamirano was accused of threatening a woman, but he remained in the U.S.
In response to Grassley’s and Flake’s letter, Sarah Saldaña, the director of ICE, stated that 33 of the 121 illegal aliens who have been accused of “homicide-related offenses” had been released on bond at the discretion of the Justice Department’s Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) after committing their original crime. Another 24 were released because ICE was unable to obtain approval to deport alien convicts within the 180-day timeframe mandated by federal law.
Saldaña explained that because of a 2001 Supreme Court case, Zadvydas v. Davis, aliens who are facing deportation proceedings cannot be held in ICE custody for more than 180 days, except in extreme circumstances. That means that if a criminal alien’s country of origin refuses to take them back, ICE must release the alien back onto the streets while they await deportation proceedings.
In her letter, Saldaña stated that ICE was not aware of the criminal injunctions against Altamirano until his arrest for the convenience store murder.
“There is currently no systematic process for state and local authorities to notify ICE when an injunction or order of protection is served,” Saldaña admitted. She also admitted that ICE “does not routinely notify local authorities when a detainee is released on bond from ICE custody.”
A similar information gap existing between federal immigration agencies and local authorities was exposed in a Boston Globe report published on Sunday.
The Globe found that ICE has lost track of hundreds of illegal alien sex offenders. Besides the federal laws which prohibit deporting the criminals if their home countries refuse to take them back, the Globe found that federal immigration agencies often fail to notify local authorities about the illegal alien criminals’ violent histories. The convicted aliens often fail to comply with local laws that require sex offenders to register.
In order to fix information gaps like that, Saldana said that ICE is working to increase its information sharing protocol through a new initiative called the Law Enforcement Notification System (LENS).
In a new letter sent on Monday, Grassley and Alabama U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions sought an explanation for how the heads of the Departments of Justice, State, and Homeland Security plan to close the knowledge-sharing gap between the agencies.
Grassley and Sessions asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch to explain how decisions are made within the Justice Department’s EOIR to release criminal aliens prior to their deportation proceedings. The senators are also seeking to find out from Lynch, Sec. of State John Kerry and Sec. of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson how the various agencies are “working together to improve cooperation by other nations with regard to U.S. efforts to deport individuals with criminal convictions.”
Noting that ICE has released 2,457 convicted criminal aliens in 2014 and another 1,107 in 2015 due to the Zadvydas ruling, the Republicans asked Kerry if he plans to use diplomatic pressure to ensure that countries agree to allow the U.S. to return alien criminals.
The senators asked whether Kerry would use threats of visa sanctions or the withholding of foreign aid to force “recalcitrant nations” to accept the return of criminal aliens.
Grassley and Sessions are seeking a response by July 6.