NOVEMBER 17, 2008
In recently touting this year’s record number of deportations, federal immigration officials conveniently omitted that they also released thousands of illegal immigrants—some with violent criminal records and others ordered deported decades ago—jailed in a border state’s most populous county.
It was just a few weeks ago that the Homeland Security agency in charge of deporting illegal immigrants, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), bragged about a drastic increase in deportations this fiscal year. The agency distributed a report to the media with regional break downs of the 20% increase and basked in the nationwide coverage of its effort.
But it turns out that during the same period, ICE freed thousands of illegal immigrants jailed in Harris County, Texas’ most populous. Hundreds were convicted felons, including child molesters, rapists and drug dealers, who had previously avoided deportation after serving sentences in Harris County jail. More than 3,500 told authorities during the booking process that they were in the U.S. illegally.
It took a Houston newspaper investigation to obtain these alarming figures, which were completely left out of ICE’s recent back-patting report on deportations. The paper reviewed thousands of criminal and immigration records in Harris County, the nation’s third-most populous with about 3.5 million residents, before publishing a weekend story with its findings.
About 75% of imprisoned illegal immigrants were released in the U.S. rather than deported and nearly 200 were charged with additional crimes after being freed, more than half serious felonies like aggravated sexual assault of a child and murder. The investigation also found that federal officials missed hundreds of opportunities to deport convicted criminals, perpetuating a cycle of crime and violence.
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