Alissa Tabirian

April 1, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Bruce Chambers/ZUMApress/Newscom

Federal immigration officials last year charged only one of every four “deportable” illegal immigrants and released more than a third of those convicted of crimes, according to a new report based on data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) itself.

ICE agents last year “charged only 195,000 or 25 percent, out of 722,000 potentially deportable aliens they encountered,” the report by the Center for Immigration Studies said. ICE released 68,000 illegal immigrants convicted of criminal offenses, “or 35 percent of the criminal aliens encountered by officers.”

Although the Obama administration frequently cites record-breaking deportation numbers, the report reflects what Republican lawmakers have said is a 40 percent drop in deportations from the interior of the country (as opposed to turn-backs at the border) since 2009.

“The Obama administration consistently claims that it must selectively enforce the law because of a lack of resources,” Heritage Foundation homeland security analyst David Inserra told The Foundry. “Yet President Obama has consistently sought to cut ICE’s budget, indicating that the administration clearly does not prioritize the enforcement of U.S. immigration laws.”

Under the administration’s use of prosecutorial discretion, report author Jessica M. Vaughan writes, ICE officers are instructed “to release illegal aliens if the alien is a parent or caregiver; if the alien claims to be in school; if the alien has been here a long time; or if the alien claims to be eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.”

ICE officers also are instructed “to ignore convictions for state crimes if the conviction occurred under a state law that the administration opposes or thinks is too harsh.”

Vaughan, director of policy studies at the nonpartisan, nonprofit Center for Immigration Studies, said in the report that the administration hopes to “focus its limited resources on convicted criminals” by directing ICE officers not to deport “illegal aliens who have been previously deported, who are fugitives, or who have skipped immigration hearings.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), a sharp critic of the administration’s immigration policies, was not available for comment to The Foundry. However, in a statement released yesterday regarding ICE’s parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Sessions said:

“The preponderance of the evidence demonstrates that immigration enforcement in America has collapsed. Even those with criminal convictions are being released. DHS is a department in crisis. Secretary [Jeh] Johnson must reject the president’s demands to weaken enforcement further and tell him that his duty, and his officers’ duty, is to enforce the law—not break it.”

To the benefit of illegal immigrants, the new report notes, “family relationships, political considerations, attention from advocacy groups, and other factors not related to public safety can trump even serious criminal convictions and result in the termination of a deportation case.”

Under the administration’s enforcement policies, ICE officers “are not permitted to file charges against aliens who do not fall into the administration’s narrowly defined criteria for enforcement, regardless of the criminal charges or the circumstances in which the alien was identified.”

It’s not a reassuring picture, Heritage’s Inserra said:

“ICE officers and law enforcement officers around the country stand ready to enforce our laws, but are being prevented from doing so by executive fiats issued by the Obama administration.”