Vast Majority Of Immigrants Are Held In Local Jails For Non-Serious Offenses

CREDIT: Esther Y. Lee

A recent report indicates that the vast majority of immigrants are detained by local authorities on behalf of immigration enforcement officials without ever having committed serious criminal or repeat offenses. The report states that less than one out of nine detained immigrants actually committed serious offenses.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials use “detainers,” or immigration holds to request that local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies detain undocumented immigrants for less than 48 hours (excluding holiday and weekends) before ICE agents can take them to be processed and possibly deported later. Those individuals are let go only if ICE doesn’t assume custody within 48 hours.

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) data compiled by Syracuse University indicates that 10.8 percent of detained immigrants qualify as individuals who pose a serious threat to public safety or national security.

About 38 percent of individuals with immigration holds had a record of serious criminal convictions– a category that includes minor traffic violations. Of those that were charged with serious offenses, the second most common occurrence comes from immigrants who were charged with driving under the influence. The sixth most common occurrence comes from marijuana possession. After taking out traffic violators and marijuana possession violations, the number of individuals who have serious criminal records drops to 26 percent.

Immigrants subjected to detainers are not automatically put in deportation proceedings. But holds can adversely affect immigrants in other ways, including longer jail times and limiting the person’s ability to be released on bail if they have criminal charges. Without bail, these individuals would have to wait out their pre-trial period in jail. Issues like overcrowding then become a problem.

On Tuesday, San Francisco prohibited its law enforcement officials from detaining non-serious immigrant offenders in local jails. Los Angeles made the same move in December 2012. Both cities will still review the seriousness of the offense before its enforcement officials decide to detain immigrants in local jails though.

Immigrant rights activists have long criticized the entire process of detaining non-violent immigrants because they feel that misdemeanors should not warrant the same conviction as others. Between 2010 to 2012, nearly one-quarter of all immigrants deported were parents of U.S. citizens.

More than 400,000 immigrants have been deported since President Barack Obama took office, but a large number of those apprehended have not committed serious criminal offenses. By some estimates, his administration will be on track to making its two millionth deportation some time in 2014.