Created by executive order, a new weekly report ostensibly shows criminal immigrants being released, but its figures are murky at best and ultimately misleading.
The bulletin is long, detailed, and intimidating, as it is apparently intended to be: The Trump administration’s first weekly list of suspected crimes by immigrants in “sanctuary cities,” issued by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seemingly details some 206 cases where suspected illegal immigrants were involved in crimes in jurisdictions where local officials have declined to cooperate with ICE’s detainer requests.
There’s a problem, though: The numbers listed in the bulletin are not what they seem.
The bulletin’s stated intent is to call out the sanctuary cities. “In uncooperative jurisdictions like Cook County, Illinois, and the City of Philadelphia, ICE is barred from interviewing arrestees in local custody. Therefore, in these communities a large number of criminals who have yet to be encountered by ICE are arrested by local authorities and released in these communities without any notification to ICE,” the report said.
“When law enforcement agencies fail to honor immigration detainers and release serious criminal offenders, it undermines ICE’s ability to protect the public safety and carry out its mission,” Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan said in a statement.
Conservative sites promptly picked up on the bulletin’s fearmongering context, running headlines like: “ALERT: Trump Releases Terrifying List Of Cities With Extremely Unsafe Illegals… Do You Live Here?”
However, ICE’s numbers are not quite what they appear to be. In the report, titled the "Weekly and Declined Detainer Outcome Report," 206 declined “detainers” are listed: immigrants marked by ICE for possible deportation but who instead were released by law enforcement between January 28, 2017, and February 3, 2017. ICE typically requests that these individuals be detained by local law enforcement for about 48 hours in order “to allow DHS to assume custody for removal purposes.”
More than half the cases listed by ICE, however, involve people who have only been charged with violations but have not been convicted. Out of those 206 on the list, 116 cases involve pending charges.
The detainers, moreover, are only a tiny portion of the total 3,083 detainers issued throughout the country during that same period. That represents about 15 percent.
Finally, not only is it unclear what period the number cited in the report covers, the figure itself is somewhat murky, since it does not represent all the cases in which immigration authorities sought custody of people facing criminal charges. As a result of this, major cities like New York and Los Angeles are underrepresented on the list.
The large majority of the immigrants on the list, nearly 70 percent, are from Mexico. All told more than 95 percent are from Latin American countries.
The most common charges listed are assault, driving under the influence of alcohol, domestic violence, robbery and sexual assault. Some of the immigrants on the list have been charged with drug possession, resisting an officer and prostitution.
Thanks to one county – Travis County, home of the state capital, Austin – Texas is the most frequently listed state. Travis County accounted for nearly 70 percent, with 142 of detainer cases listed.
State politicians promptly made hay with the bulletin. Governor Greg Abbott called the report “deeply disturbing,” saying it highlighted the “urgent need for a statewide sanctuary city ban in Texas.” Abbott pulled state funding for Travis County programs last month after Democratic Sheriff Sally Hernandez said that she would only honor detainer requests from ICE agents on a limited basis.
“Texas will act to put an end to sanctuary policies that put the lives of our citizens at risk,” Abbott wrote response to the bulletin.
President Trump created the weekly list as part of his first executive order, issued Jan. 25 and titled Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, a section of which instructed the ICE Director to make such a report public.
The executive order represented Trump’s first steps to make good on campaign promises not only to build a “wall” along the U.S.–Mexico border, but also to crack down on sanctuary cities for shielding undocumented immigrants from federal officials. The order included a plan to publish a weekly list of crimes ostensibly committed by undocumented immigrants.
The section, titled “Sanctuary Jurisdictions,” calls for the Homeland Security secretary to “utilize the Declined Detainer Outcome Report or its equivalent and, on a weekly basis, make public a comprehensive list of criminal actions committed by aliens and any jurisdiction that ignored or otherwise failed to honor any detainers with respect to such aliens.”
Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump was fond of citing various crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. He often invited family members of those who were victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants to appear onstage with him at campaign events.
Trump’s opening campaign statement in June 2015 had set this tone: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some I assume are good people,” Trump said of undocumented Mexican immigrants.
According to the Declined Detainer Outcome Report, the aim of the new order is “to better inform the public regarding the public safety threats associated with sanctuary jurisdictions.” The report also calls for the secretary of state to “make public a comprehensive list of criminal actions committed by aliens.” an Office for Victims of Crimes Committed by Removable Aliens is scheduled to be established, and it will direct the Justice Department to prioritize those immigration prosecutions.
Local officials around the country voiced dismay with the bulletin.
“They cast a very broad net in who they included in this list. We’re all still trying to figure out what is accomplished by this list, and also how it’s going to be used,” said Jorge Elorza, mayor of Providence, R.I., which was included in the list.
Elorza noted that Rhode Island generally does not honor most ICE detainer requests, but the mayor said Providence appeared to have been singled out because of a non-binding resolution passed by city councilors in 2011, which Elorza says wasn’t about detainers.
In Oregon, Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett said the report does not accurately describe the difficulties or potential legal ramifications associated with honoring ICE detainer requests." He noted that 2014 Oregon federal court ruling determined that law enforcement could be held liable for keeping someone in jail for immigration agents without probable cause.
ICE’s aggressive tactics against sanctuary cities reflects deeper problems with its approach to enforcing immigration laws – namely, that the threat of deportation arising out of any contact with the legal system is undermining the ability of law enforcement to pursue real crime. In some ICE jurisdictions, women who have been victims of domestic abuse have been dropping their cases out of fear they might be picked up by ICE agents merely for showing up at the courthouse.
Their fears are not groundless. An NPR report showed a video, circulated widely among immigrants, of ICE agents standing outside a Denver courthouse as they waited to make arrests. Subsequently, four women dropped cases in which they were victims of “physical and violent assault,” according to Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson, who said they feared they risked deportation if they showed up for a hearing:
“We had pending cases that we were prosecuting on their behalf and since January 25, the date of the president’s executive order [on immigration], those four women have let our office know they were not willing to proceed with the case for fear that they would be spotted in the courthouse and deported.”
In February, an undocumented immigrant was arrested at a courthouse in El Paso, Texas, by ICE agents moments after a hearing at which she had been granted a protective order against her abusive ex-husband.