The Obama administration has ordered a Nashville, Tenn., sheriff to release some illegal immigrants swept up on minor charges. The move has drawn criticism from enforcement advocates and concerns of a return to the widely criticized "catch and release" policy.
The Christian Science Monitor reports that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement directed the Nashville sheriff to “release on recognizance” some illegal immigrants arrested on such charges as fishing without a license. It appears the Nashville sheriff was the only one issued the directive. But it could affect at lease some of the 66 U.S. law enforcement jurisdictions that are part of a controversial 287(g) program, which deputizes local law enforcement to act as de facto immigration agents.
The 287(g) program has been criticized by immigrant-rights groups as unfair and inhumane. A congressional report released in March criticized the $40 million federal program, saying it is rounding up minor offenders instead of the serious criminals it was designed to nab.
The program is operating in eight N.C. jails, including Mecklenburg, Cabarrus and Gaston counties.
According to a report by the Mecklenburg sheriff, which covered arrests through April 5, more than 6,300 individuals have been placed into deportation proceedings under the program started in 2006. Of those, 609 were arrested on felonies. More than 1,800 were arrested on traffic charges; another 1,523 were charged with DWI.
In May, we reported on enforcement advocates’ concerns that new federal immigration guidelines focusing on employers may signal a return to a de facto catch- and-release policy that allowed captured illegal immigrants to be released while they await a court date. Many never showed up.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates stronger enforcement, said new U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement guidelines raises questions whether illegal immigrants caught at worksites will be released. FAIR cited a line in the federal memo that states:
ICE will continue to arrest and process for removal any illegal workers who are found in the course of these worksite enforcement actions in a manner consistent with immigration law and DHS priorities.
FAIR contends that “processing for removal” could mean releasing illegal immigrants and giving them a notice to appear in court on a certain day to begin removal proceedings.
Matt Chandler, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman, told the Monitor there has been no policy change.
“ICE always puts a priority on criminal aliens who pose a national security threat,” he said. “We are taking a deep, hard look at the program.”
Releasing minor offenders could significantly impact 287(g), experts say. Pre-2006 studies showed that about 85 percent of illegal immigrants released on bond did not show up for their court date.
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