shutterstock_3324579Once again, in an attempt to derail an honest debate about immigration policy, the nativist Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) released a report this week claiming that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is setting free tens of thousands of dangerous criminals. The implication, of course, is that these “criminal aliens” will once again prey upon an unsuspecting American public. However, CIS relies upon an over-simplified (and mostly unexplained) analysis of one ICE document to make its case. CIS protects this report from any detailed analysis or critique by making assertions about data that it feels no obligation to explain or reveal. What seems clear is that, beneath the bluster of CIS’s claims, there is very little substance.

The heart of the CIS report is the assertion that, “in 2013, ICE freed 36,007 convicted criminal aliens from detention who were awaiting the outcome of deportation proceedings.” Moreover, these 36,007 had nearly 88,000 convictions among them. These sound like scary numbers until you break them down. For instance, 32,863 convictions for traffic offenses (including DUIs) are lumped in with more serious offenses. The list of convictions for these “criminal aliens” ranges from tax fraud and disturbing the peace to aggravated assault and kidnapping. The point is that looking at this group of people as an undifferentiated whole doesn’t tell you much about who poses a risk to public safety and who does not.

More importantly, all of these individuals paid their fine or served their time in the criminal justice system. They served the sentences that had been imposed upon them for their crimes. But, because they are immigrants, they were subject to further detention in the immigration system. However, even in the immigration system, which affords few due-process rights to the foreign-born, there exist fundamental legal protections. And one of those protections is that individuals cannot be held indefinitely without cause. Another is that they have the right to a bond hearing to determine if they pose a danger to public safety or are a flight risk. And yet another is the right to contest their deportation.

Keep in mind that many, if not most, of these people are legal permanent residents of the United States who may have resided here for many years before they violated any laws. As an organization that holds itself out as committed to affording a “warmer welcome for those who are admitted,” is CIS arguing for mandatory, permanent detention of immigrants with no opportunity to have the facts and circumstances of their case reviewed? That sounds much more like the welcome that is afforded in North Korea and Russia rather than the United States.

The bottom line is that the U.S. Constitution does not permit the creation of an immigration gulag in which being born in another country can earn you a life sentence. That said, any of the immigrants who are the subject of the CIS report could have been kept in detention if a judge had determined that they were a security or terrorism risk, or a “special risk to public safety.” So the CIS intimation that the lives of Americans have been put at risk by the release of these immigrants is disingenuous at best. It’s also worth noting that, while some were released on their own recognizance, others were released on bond, or under an order of supervision, or under an alternative to detention (such as an electronic ankle bracelet). They weren’t simply set free.

This latest report from CIS is anti-immigrant fear-mongering at its lowest. Immigrants are demonized as dangerous criminals, despite the fact that they are less likely to commit serious crimes or be behind bars than the native-born. Individual cases of serious crimes committed by immigrants are held up as proof that all of “them” are a threat to “us.” This is a cynical and small-minded view of the world that bears no relationship to reality.

Photo by Frances A. Miller.

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