Immigration agents releasing violent criminals, says paper

David Paulin
The Houston Chronicle continues an investigative series today describing an immigration system so broken that Federal officials allowed thousands of illegal immigrants held in jail – including violent criminals -- to return to the streets.

"I never lied about who I am or where I'm from. I'm 100 percent Mexican," Miguel Mejia Rodriguez, 36, told the Chronicle in a jail house interview. In 2006, the unemployed drifter served a 25-day jail sentence for lewdly touching himself in public. However, immigration agents failed to detain him -- even though he'd identified himself as an illegal immigrant. Today, Rodriguez is accused of raping and sodomizing a second-grader. Earlier, he'd served earlier sentences for drug possession, theft, and trespassing.

In its story, the Chronicle focuses on the Houston area but says similar problems are occurring nationwide. Immigration officials say they're doing the best job possible given their limited resources.

According to the Chronicle's first installment yesterday of its three-part series:
Federal immigration officials allowed scores of violent criminals — some ordered deported decades ago — to walk away from Harris County Jail despite the inmates' admission to local authorities that they were in the country illegally, a Houston Chronicle investigation found.

A review of thousands of criminal and immigration records shows that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials didn't file the paperwork to detain roughly 75 percent of the more than 3,500 inmates who told jailers during the booking process that they were in the U.S. illegally.

Although most of the inmates released from custody were accused of minor crimes, hundreds of convicted felons — including child molesters, rapists and drug dealers — also managed to avoid deportation after serving time in Harris County's jails, according to the Chronicle's review, which was based on documents filed over a period of eight months starting in June 2007, the earliest immigration records available.

Among the paper's troubling findings:

*“In 177 cases reviewed by the Chronicle, inmates who were released from jail after admitting to being in the country illegally later were charged with additional crimes. More than half of those charges were felonies, including aggravated sexual assault of a child and capital murder.”

*Immigration and Customs “officials estimated that between 300,000 and 450,000 inmates incarcerated in the U.S. are eligible for deportation each year.”

*“In Texas, foreign nationals made up approximately 15 percent of the state's population in 2005, and about 7 percent of state prison offenders.”


The problems detailed by the Chronicle are no doubt far more serious than what it describes, because the paper focused only on inmates who'd admitted to being in the country illegally. “The nation's system for identifying and deporting immigrants convicted of crimes is largely secretive,” the paper pointed out. “ICE officials refuse to disclose the names or basic immigration history of people detained and marked for deportation, citing privacy protections in federal law.”

Despite describing a number of horrific crimes committed by illegal immigrants – those previously detained by immigration and customs agents – the paper noted: “Immigrant advocates cautioned against stereotyping illegal immigrants based on high-profile cases. Most research has found that recent immigrants are far less likely than their U.S.-born counterparts to commit crimes and end up in prison.”

Yet that claim seems difficult to substantiate in light of the Chronicle's own observation that statistics are not publicly available to give a true sense of the magnitude of the worst problems pertaining to illegal immigration.

The Chronicle's series comes on the heels a controversial proposal by a top Texas law-enforcement agency to reduce highway accidents by setting up highway checkpoints – all to allow police to check that motorists have driver's licenses, liability insurance, and have registered their vehicles. However, the initiative is being fiercely opposed by the state's Democratic lawmakers, rights advocates, and ethnic lobbies. They claim it's a veiled effort to target and deport illegal immigrants.

“Setting up checkpoints would lead to discrimination,” declared the headline of an editorial in last week's Austin American-Statesman.  "It's not difficult to figure out that the true goal of the public safety commission is to crack down on illegal immigrants,” the paper's editorial board argued. “Checkpoints would invite racial profiling and shift immigration enforcement — a responsibility of the federal government — to state and local officials."

The editorial nevertheless conceded that many illegal immigrants do pose problems when driving on Texas highways:

There are an estimated 1.5 million illegal immigrants living in Texas, and many are driving without licenses or insurance. That puts legal residents at greater risk of hit-and-run collisions when they are involved in accidents with unlicensed or uninsured illegal residents.

The state's attorney general will be making a decision on whether the checkpoints pass legal muster. Except legal challenges from the usual rights groups and ethnic lobbies -- those who routinely oppose state-initiated efforts to crack down on illegal immigration. And if past experience is anything to go by, they'll probably win in the courts, too.
The Houston Chronicle continues an investigative series today describing an immigration system so broken that Federal officials allowed thousands of illegal immigrants held in jail – including violent criminals -- to return to the streets.

"I never lied about who I am or where I'm from. I'm 100 percent Mexican," Miguel Mejia Rodriguez, 36, told the Chronicle in a jail house interview. In 2006, the unemployed drifter served a 25-day jail sentence for lewdly touching himself in public. However, immigration agents failed to detain him -- even though he'd identified himself as an illegal immigrant. Today, Rodriguez is accused of raping and sodomizing a second-grader. Earlier, he'd served earlier sentences for drug possession, theft, and trespassing.

In its story, the Chronicle focuses on the Houston area but says similar problems are occurring nationwide. Immigration officials say they're doing the best job possible given their limited resources.

According to the Chronicle's first installment yesterday of its three-part series:
Federal immigration officials allowed scores of violent criminals — some ordered deported decades ago — to walk away from Harris County Jail despite the inmates' admission to local authorities that they were in the country illegally, a Houston Chronicle investigation found.

A review of thousands of criminal and immigration records shows that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials didn't file the paperwork to detain roughly 75 percent of the more than 3,500 inmates who told jailers during the booking process that they were in the U.S. illegally.

Although most of the inmates released from custody were accused of minor crimes, hundreds of convicted felons — including child molesters, rapists and drug dealers — also managed to avoid deportation after serving time in Harris County's jails, according to the Chronicle's review, which was based on documents filed over a period of eight months starting in June 2007, the earliest immigration records available.

Among the paper's troubling findings:

*“In 177 cases reviewed by the Chronicle, inmates who were released from jail after admitting to being in the country illegally later were charged with additional crimes. More than half of those charges were felonies, including aggravated sexual assault of a child and capital murder.”

*Immigration and Customs “officials estimated that between 300,000 and 450,000 inmates incarcerated in the U.S. are eligible for deportation each year.”

*“In Texas, foreign nationals made up approximately 15 percent of the state's population in 2005, and about 7 percent of state prison offenders.”


The problems detailed by the Chronicle are no doubt far more serious than what it describes, because the paper focused only on inmates who'd admitted to being in the country illegally. “The nation's system for identifying and deporting immigrants convicted of crimes is largely secretive,” the paper pointed out. “ICE officials refuse to disclose the names or basic immigration history of people detained and marked for deportation, citing privacy protections in federal law.”

Despite describing a number of horrific crimes committed by illegal immigrants – those previously detained by immigration and customs agents – the paper noted: “Immigrant advocates cautioned against stereotyping illegal immigrants based on high-profile cases. Most research has found that recent immigrants are far less likely than their U.S.-born counterparts to commit crimes and end up in prison.”

Yet that claim seems difficult to substantiate in light of the Chronicle's own observation that statistics are not publicly available to give a true sense of the magnitude of the worst problems pertaining to illegal immigration.

The Chronicle's series comes on the heels a controversial proposal by a top Texas law-enforcement agency to reduce highway accidents by setting up highway checkpoints – all to allow police to check that motorists have driver's licenses, liability insurance, and have registered their vehicles. However, the initiative is being fiercely opposed by the state's Democratic lawmakers, rights advocates, and ethnic lobbies. They claim it's a veiled effort to target and deport illegal immigrants.

“Setting up checkpoints would lead to discrimination,” declared the headline of an editorial in last week's Austin American-Statesman.  "It's not difficult to figure out that the true goal of the public safety commission is to crack down on illegal immigrants,” the paper's editorial board argued. “Checkpoints would invite racial profiling and shift immigration enforcement — a responsibility of the federal government — to state and local officials."

The editorial nevertheless conceded that many illegal immigrants do pose problems when driving on Texas highways:

There are an estimated 1.5 million illegal immigrants living in Texas, and many are driving without licenses or insurance. That puts legal residents at greater risk of hit-and-run collisions when they are involved in accidents with unlicensed or uninsured illegal residents.

The state's attorney general will be making a decision on whether the checkpoints pass legal muster. Except legal challenges from the usual rights groups and ethnic lobbies -- those who routinely oppose state-initiated efforts to crack down on illegal immigration. And if past experience is anything to go by, they'll probably win in the courts, too.