[Guest post by DRJ]
The Houston Chronicle reported today on its comprehensive 8-month study of Houston criminal and immigration records that show federal immigration officials allowed up to 75% of the 3,500 Harris County Jail inmates who admitted they were in the country illegally to remain in the US instead of facing deportation. The released inmates include child molesters, rapists and drug dealers.
From the report:
• In 177 cases reviewed by the Chronicle, inmates who were released from jail after admitting to being in the country illegally later were charged with additional crimes. More than half of those charges were felonies, including aggravated sexual assault of a child and capital murder.
• About 11 percent of the 3,500 inmates in the review had three or more prior convictions in Harris County. Many had repeatedly cycled through the system despite a history of violence and, in some cases, outstanding deportation orders.
Immigration officials claim their officers are overworked, underpaid, and note they successfully deported 107,000 criminal aliens nationwide in FY 2008, including 8,226 from Houston. They estimate “between 300,000 and 450,000 inmates incarcerated in the U.S. are eligible for deportation each year” but only about 10% are screened.
And these numbers may be low given that the Houston Chronicle states the criminal alien screening process is based on previously deported suspects or a suspect’s voluntary admission that s/he is in the country illegally:
“The Houston Police Department, which runs the city’s jails, notifies ICE only about suspects with immigration warrants and previously deported felons.
Of the more than 80,000 bookings into Harris County Jail during the review period, about 3,500 — less than 5 percent — admitted to being in the country illegally. ICE filed paperwork to detain roughly 900 of the 3,500. During the review period, the agency also filed paperwork to detain 2,500 suspects not included in the database, indicating that many immigrants who are eligible for deportation do not disclose that they are here illegally.
ICE, however, could not confirm whether the inmates marked for ”holds” actually were deported.”
Harris County Sheriff-elect Adrian Garcia hasn’t decided whether he will continue to allow federal immigration officials to screen inmates at the Jail. His predecessor, the current Sheriff, authorized the screenings in late 2006 after the execution-style murder of Houston police officer Rodney Johnson by an illegal immigrant, a murder that outraged the police and the community.
Sheriff-elect Garcia’s election was one of a near sweep by Democrats of Harris County offices attributed to Obama’s win. If the Sheriff-elect ends the screening program, efforts to deport criminal aliens may be a rare and short-lived experiment in Houston.