WASHINGTON—Illegal immigrants are being released from prison only to be arrested on new charges despite government efforts to deport them and keep them out of the country.
The findings are part of an audit by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine that suggest authorities are still struggling to deport illegal immigrants who commit crimes, even though most state and local authorities are notifying immigration authorities of the imminent release of prisoners.
Fine's office analyzed the cases of 100 immigrants who had served time in prison and found 73 of them were re-arrested for committing a crime after being released.
On average, each immigrant was re-arrested six times, ranging from traffic violations to assault.
Fine's office couldn't determine how many illegal immigrants had been re-arrested overall because immigration authorities don't keep track. If the sample was any indication, "the rate at which released criminal aliens are re-arrested is extremely high," the report said.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials questioned whether the audit's small sample should reflect negatively on their agency's efforts to deport criminal immigrants. The audit did not determine whether ICE failed to deport the immigrants after being notified by prison officials.
But Heather Mac Donald, a fellow with the conservative Manhattan Institute, said ICE continues to have problems with deporting criminal immigrants because the agency doesn't always have enough detention space to hold immigrants once they're released from prisons.
"What this speaks to is the fact that we're not up to speed on immigration enforcement in general," she said.
Last year, Homeland Security's inspector general said immigration authorities expected that most of the 300,000 illegal and legal immigrants eligible to be deported would be released. Federal officials said they would need 34,000 additional beds at a cost of $1.1 billion to detain and remove all of them.
David Martin, a University of Virginia law professor and former top immigration official, said he was surprised that the re-arrest numbers in the most recent report were "so high."
U.S. immigration officials appeared to be making progress working with state and local officials who now notify them before a criminal immigrant is released, he said. That way, the immigrant is quickly deported.
Congress requested the audit because of questions about compliance with a federal program meant to reimburse cities and states for the costs of incarcerating illegal immigrants.
California, New York, Texas, and Florida receive the most funding. States and cities often are not completely reimbursed for what they spend on prisoners because the program doesn't get enough funding, the audit said.
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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