ICE Chief Says ‘Judicial Overreach’ Is Threatening Public Safety

October 10, 2019 Updated: October 11, 2019

WASHINGTON—Speaking from the White House press room podium, acting ICE Director Matt Albence lambasted a judge’s ruling that blocks Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from using database information to issue detainers.

A detainer is a request to a local jail to hold an inmate for up to 48 hours longer in order for ICE to take custody. ICE issues detainers based on probable cause to believe that an individual is a removable alien, Albence said.

“Probable cause is the same legal standard that other law enforcement agencies must meet in order to make an arrest,” he said on Oct. 10.

California District Judge André Birotte Jr. issued the ruling on Sept. 27, on the premise that relying on database information alone can be unreliable and has sometimes led to the wrongful detention of American citizens.

“The result is a potential misclassification of thousands and thousands of people, potentially even millions, given the various requirements for derivation of citizenship, their dynamism, and the failure of immigration officials to adequately or properly track those changes in status,” the judge’s ruling states.

“The result, of course, is that many U.S. citizens become exposed to possible false arrest when ICE relies solely on deficient databases.”

The ACLU, which represented the plaintiffs, celebrated the decision, saying it was a landmark ruling.

“This decision is a major indictment of ICE’s dragnet deportation program, which for more than a decade has subjected citizens and non-citizens to needless unconstitutional arrests at the mere click of a button,” Jennie Pasquarella, senior staff attorney and director of immigrants’ rights for the ACLU SoCal, said in a statement on Sept. 28.

Data provided to the court by ICE shows that almost 13,000 detainers were issued from May 2015 through February 2016. Of the 13,000 detainers, 42 were subsequently lifted because the individual was found to be a U.S. citizen. A further 729 were lifted because the person was not subject to removal.

“Many times, individuals that we come across that are United States citizens don’t even know that they are, because the laws around citizenship are so complicated,” Albence said.

“The reality is we live in an electronic age where information is increasingly digitized, and evidence used to support a finding of probable cause will likely stem from databases.”

Albence said the decision, “issued by a single judge in Los Angeles, will impact at least 43 states, threatening communities far beyond the one in which this judge sits.”

“This decision will threaten public safety, as it will lead to the release of criminal aliens back onto the street—criminals that we won’t find before they hurt, or worse, more innocent victims—victims that could have been spared their pain and suffering if only ICE had been allowed to do its job.”

Albence said ICE usually finds out about an illegal alien when they’re booked into a local jail and their fingerprints are run and data recorded.

“They bounce off the FBI’s databases and they bounce off our databases,” he said.

ICE made about 140,000 illegal alien arrests in fiscal 2018; 75 percent of which came from ICE working with jails and prisons. The other 25 percent were made by ICE’s at-large teams in the community.

Arrests of criminal aliens are down about 15 percent this fiscal year, Albence said, due to the redeployment of agents to assist during the border crisis.

“As much as I would like to, I cannot stand here today and promise you that dangerous criminal aliens are not being let out of jails to potentially harm others. In fact, it’s quite the opposite,” he said.

“And court decisions that negate our lawful authorities only compound this risk. To be clear, the principal beneficiaries of the recent court decision limiting ICE’s ability to use its detainer authorities are criminal aliens who have been arrested for criminal offenses by state and local jurisdictions.”

Albence also took aim at New Jersey’s attorney general, who last week forbade local law enforcement from entering into cooperative agreements with ICE.

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issued the directive on Sept. 27, saying 287(g) agreements “undermine public trust without enhancing public safety.”

The 287(g) program allows ICE to train local jail officers to identify criminal aliens in their custody, under ICE supervision. Two counties in New Jersey—Monmouth and Cape May—currently have a 287(g) agreement with ICE.

Under the program, in May, Monmouth County officers were able to identify and place an immigration hold on a Mexican national who was charged with enticing a child, sexual assault on a child under 13, lewdness, and endangering sexual conduct with a child, according to ICE.

“I don’t understand how an attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer of the state, tells other law enforcement officers under his command to ignore the law,” Albence said. “He surely did nothing but put the citizens of New Jersey at greater risk.”

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