Monday, March 23, 2009

Criminal Aliens Without End

(Fourth in a 12-part BorderLines series "Aliens, Crime, and Drugs: Making the Connection.") There is no good estimate of the number of criminal aliens because it’s a constantly expanding population, as the number of new immigrants grows and as the number of immigrant residents who are convicted of crimes grows. It’s also a rising number because the federal government’s definition of deportable crimes keeps expanding, and because new border control and interior enforcement programs at DHS have been increasingly turning immigration violations into criminal violations. There are roughly 20 million legal noncitizen residents and 11 million illegal residents in the United States. ICE estimates that there are 300,000 to 450,000 criminal aliens detained at federal, state, and local prisons and jails. Once it gets data systems fully operating and with sufficient budgeting ($2-3 billion), ICE can remove all these aliens, most of whom are legal residents. An unknown number, presumably much larger than those currently detained, of legal residents who have at any time during their residence been convicted of a “removable offense” are also criminal aliens. They are “removable” but will likely remain outside ICE’s custody until they are identified by a cross-check of the government’s increasingly integrated immigration/criminal databases – as when they reenter the country after a foreign visit, apply for citizenship, booked in a local jail, stopped by a law enforcement official. In other words, if a legal resident has ever been convicted of a crime, even if the sentence was waived, they can at any point in their life be arrested and deported as a criminal alien. To this expanding pool of criminal aliens, any noncitizen who in the future commits a removable offense will be added. All 11 million immigrants are removable, in addition to the 300,000 – 500,000 additional immigrants who each year enter illegally or overstay their visas. If any of these are convicted of a crime or charged with a criminal violation of immigration law, they are considered criminal aliens, and will likely serve a prison sentence before being turned back to ICE for detention and removal. Next: The Widening Net

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