WASHINGTON -- Immigration and Customs Enforcement requested that local law enforcement agencies hold more than 800 U.S. citizens -- a majority of whom were never convicted of a crime -- between 2008 and 2012, according to ICE data released Wednesday by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.
ICE routinely asked local law enforcement to hold people after arrests if they were suspected of being in the United States without authorization. In most cases, those requests were for undocumented immigrants, but legal permanent residents, who can be deported under certain circumstances, and U.S. citizens could get caught up in the mix.
ICE asked law enforcement to hold 834 U.S. citizens and 28,489 legal permanent residents between fiscal year 2008 and the beginning of fiscal year 2012, according to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which is affiliated with Syracuse University. Overall, ICE issued 949,126 detainer requests in that period.
But U.S. citizens are not deportable, and neither, usually, are legal permanent residents. The figures also show that plenty of non-criminals were caught up in the immigration system; 77 percent of detainers were issued for individuals with no criminal record, and only 8.6 percent for those with a top-priority offense.
ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen noted in a statement that data in the report was collected prior to some major immigration policy changes by the administration. The most recent move to address detainers, for example, was announced in a December 2012 memo.
“This guidance limits the use of detainers to individuals who meet the agency’s enforcement priorities and restricts the use of detainers against individuals arrested for minor misdemeanor offenses such as traffic offenses and other petty crimes, helping to ensure that available resources are focused on apprehending convicted felons, repeat offenders and other ICE priorities," Christensen said.
Still, many advocates are concerned with detainers in general. A large portion of those holds are placed under Secure Communities, an information-sharing program between the federal government and local law enforcement that advocacy groups argue is rife with problems.
"This is further proof of the troubling contradiction between the president's words and his actions on immigration," Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said of the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse report in a statement. "The evidence is in. The Obama Administration's policy of using police as immigration 'force multipliers' through programs like Secure Communities has violated civil rights, imperiled public safety, and compounded injustice."
The White House draft immigration legislation, first reported by USA Today on Saturday, specifically references the issue of U.S. citizens and detainers. "The Department shall promptly cancel any detainer issued for a person who the Department learns upon further investigation is a United States citizen, a United States national or not subject to removal," reads one section.
Detainers are not mandatory, and law enforcement agencies are not instructed to hold people for more than 48 hours if they otherwise wouldn't for other criminal justice purposes. Even if arrested, some of the people who end up with detainers are never charged with a crime, or convicted of one.
ICE has pushed back, though, on efforts to block detainers. In 2011, ICE officials argued that "jurisdictions that ignore detainers bear the risk of possible public safety risks" because they could be releasing people who would eventually commit other crimes. People without detainer requests, however, would be let go under the same circumstances.
The Obama administration announced in December that it had deported a record 409,849 in the 2012 fiscal year, with 96 percent deemed a priority -- though not necessarily in the top priority category -- for removal.