USA: As the debate rages over immigration detainers, data on their efficacy is sparse

Always a sign of possible problems or issues when governments do not release data:

The debate over sanctuary cities has raged in Massachusetts for more than three years, and has only intensified since President Trump took office, as the governor, state courts, and legislators grapple with when — and even whether — local law enforcement should detain immigrants the federal government wants to deport.

But amid the disagreement, the Trump administration has clamped down on releasing information about the administrative requests from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, called detainers, which are at the heart of the debate. It is unclear how many have been issued over the past 16 months, how many are honored or rejected, and how many lead to deportations.

A February 2017 memo by John Kelly, who was head of the Department of Homeland Security at the time, ordered ICE to provide the public with a weekly report listing the name of the jurisdiction, the suspect’s citizenship and immigration status, the arresting charge, and “an explanation concerning why the detainer or similar request for custody was not honored.”

Three weekly Declined Detainer Outcome Reports were issued before the report was “temporarily suspended” so ICE could “analyze and refine its reporting methodologies,” according to a statement on the agency’s website.

But since then, ICE has failed to resume releasing the reports. Agency officials did not respond to e-mails asking why.

The information that is available shows the requests are not refused as often as critics say, and overall, detainers contribute to a small number of deportations by ICE, according to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a nonpartisan research center at Syracuse University that has issued a series of reports exploring the role detainers play in deportations.

According to the center’s reports, about 1 million people were deported during President Obama’s second term, but detainers were used in only about 7 percent of those deportations.

“It was just shocking that it was such a small portion,” said Susan Long, the research center’s codirector and a professor of managerial statistics at Syracuse University. “If you’re measuring the effectiveness of detainers by how often does ICE deport people who had a detainer, they’re not.”

And law enforcement agencies don’t refuse to honor detainer requests in high volume, the center’s reports show.

According to a report released on April 30, ICE issued more than 142,000 detainers nationwide, including 1,213 in Massachusetts, during the 2017 fiscal year ending in September 2017. But only about 5 percent of the detainers nationwide, and about 8 percent in Massachusetts, were recorded by ICE as “refused” by law enforcement agencies.

However, the report cautioned that “the accuracy of ICE records on refusals is questionable,” as the field used to track which agency refused to honor a detainer is not required to be filled out.

The state’s highest court ruled last summer that Massachusetts law enforcement officers don’t have the authority under state law to comply with ICE detainers. Since then, a flurry of state legislators and the governor have tried to pass legislation that would allow, but not force, local law enforcement to comply.

ICE has long said detainers are a valuable tool for deporting dangerous criminals, and the Trump administration has aggressively pushed for cooperation from cities and towns that have declared themselves “sanctuary cities” and generally do not honor detainers.

“And every day, sanctuary cities release illegal immigrants and drug dealers, traffickers, and gang members back into our communities,” President Trump said in March at Manchester Community College in New Hampshire, where he took aim at Lawrence’s and Boston’s sanctuary policies.

Widespread usage of detainers by ICE began in the waning years of President George W. Bush’s administration and increased rapidly when Barack Obama took office, peaking at the end of his first term, according to the center, which regularly collected data on detainers under both administrations.

But tracking the effectiveness of the Trump administration’s use of detainers has been problematic, as ICE has been “surprisingly reticent to reveal how detainers now are actually being used,” according to the center, which filed a federal lawsuit last summer asking the court to compel ICE to release this information.

“We ought to be getting that information,” said state Representative James Lyons, a Republican from Andover.


Source: As the debate rages over immigration detainers, data on their efficacy is sparse

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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