The majority of the holds (or detainers) issued by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) – which require local authorities to hand over the custody of an undocumented person – are still being made against individuals without a criminal history and who are not a threat to society. This means that the White House’s goal to focus the attention of immigration authorities on dangerous individuals is still not being accomplished.
An analysis of data submitted to the University of Syracuse’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) revealed that, in April 2015, only 19% of ICE’s detainers referred to people who had committed serious crimes, one third to people who had been convicted of some kind of felony, and two thirds to individuals who had done nothing else aside from crossing the border unauthorized. The study also said that there were 7,003 detainers that month, compared to 27,916 in March 2011, the month when the maximum number ever was issued. The amount of detainers has been decreasing since President Obama changed his policy by discontinuing the Secure Communities program.
These figures come up at a moment when the national debate on immigration is being distorted by the Republican primary. The GOP presidential candidates are seeking the support of a nativist, anti-immigrant base through improbable proposals, offensive comments and misguided perceptions. One of those suggests that, although ICE issues detainers for dangerous individuals, they are no longer being forwarded to local police departments, allegedly to comply of the President’s executive orders, leaving criminals roaming freely on the streets.
While mistakes have been made and there have been reports of poor interpretations of the law by some local authorities who have released dangerous people, this is generally not true. Still, a desirable public safety is attainable if the attention is focused on catching dangerous undocumented people, handing them over to ICE and deporting them. Federal figures reflect the opposite: ICE continues to zero-in on the wrong people to deport, which signifies a distraction from its purposes.
The solution to this and other immigration problems is a comprehensive reform that seems far from attainable given the political climate among the Republicans who control Congress, the same people who planted the seeds for the current odious debate going on in the primary.