A report released this week by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University casts serious doubt on ICE’s claim that it uses detainers to target noncitizens who pose a danger to the public. TRAC, Few ICE Detainers Target Serious Criminals (September 17, 2013). According to ICE data that TRAC obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, just under half (47.7% or 165,769) of detainers were issued against people with no criminal conviction whatsoever.
Between October 1, 2011 and January 31, 2013, ICE issued 347,691 detainers. Of the individuals against whom a detainer was issued and who had been convicted of a crime, the most serious offense recorded for the largest number of people was driving under the influence of liquor (9.6% of the total or or 33,342). The next most common conviction was for traffic offenses (6.0% or 20,997) followed by marijuana possession convictions (2.0% or 6,940). Illegal entry into the United States rounded out the top five reasons (1.9% or 6,746). The most common violent crime, assault, was the most serious conviction for 1.8% of the total or 6,234 detainers.
A mere 23% of individuals who received detainers as following into ICE’s “RC Threat Level 1” which includes individuals convicted of an aggravated felony, or two or more felonies. Another 13% fall into its RC Threat Level 2 which includes noncitizens convicted of any felony, or three or more misdemeanors. Seventeen percent fall into RC Threat Level 3 which includes individuals convicted of any misdemeanor, fine, or ticket.
Even these classifications can be misleading, TRAC explained, because ICE sometimes treats minor crimes as serious offenses. For example, marijuana possession convictions were the sixth most common offense for which people classified as having an RC Threat Level 1—the most serious threat level—were convicted. Simple traffic violations were the eleventh most common reason for receiving an RC Threat Level 1 classification.
Interestingly, TRAC’s analysis also found that most convictions that served as the basis of a detainer were rather old. A full 49% of convictions were entered more than 5 years prior to the detainer being placed (for this part of its analysis, TRAC excluded individuals who were serving a prison term when the detainer was issued). Twenty-three percent of convictions were entered more than 10 years earlier and 4% were entered more than 20 years before. Only 19% were entered with the year prior to the detainer being issued.