Report: Immigration detentions dropped, greater share had criminal convictions in late 2009

February 12, 2010 | 3:41 p.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — A decline in detentions of immigrants without criminal records led to an overall drop in the detention population late last year, a data research group reported Friday.

Roughly one in four immigration detainees — or 27 percent — had criminal records between October 2008 and September 2009, the Syracuse University-based Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse reported.

But the number of immigrants with criminal convictions increased to about four of 10 — or 43 percent — between October and December 2009 and is trending upward, according to TRAC.

There was no increase in the overall number of detainees with criminal arrests. The numbers are tracked by fiscal year, which is a 12-month period beginning on Oct. 1.

ICE told TRAC it agreed with the findings, but says more complete data shows a modest increase in the detention of immigrants with criminal records.

That data has not yet been provided to TRAC, which is a nonpartisan data research group supported by numerous foundations and based at Syracuse University in New York.

ICE spokesman Brian Hale said the agency is focused on immigration enforcement that "focuses first on those dangerous criminal aliens who present the greatest risk to the security of our communities."

TRAC researchers said they analyzed hundreds of thousands of ICE records about every detainee held from the 2005 fiscal year through the first quarter of the 2010 fiscal year.

The study bolsters criticism leveled at the Bush administration in recent years that it failed to follow Congress' mandate to give priority to detaining and deporting non-citizens who posed a threat to U.S. safety and security.

Between fiscal years 2005 and 2009, Congress funneled $24 billion to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, with most of that money going to detention and removal operations, TRAC researchers said. Detention beds increased with the money. The detention population rose from 223,417 in the twelve-month period that ended in September 2005 to 383,524 in the yearlong period ending in September 2009.

Sue Long, TRAC co-director, said if the trend of fewer non-criminal detainees continues, the Obama administration's detention policies would be in line with Congress' mandate. But she cautioned the three-month trend could be a blip.

Also, the report notes that only a small number of people defined as "criminal aliens" include those convicted of serious crimes such as armed robbery, human trafficking and drug smuggling. The rest includes people convicted of minor violations such as traffic offenses, disorderly conduct and illegal entry.


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