Immigration Detainers Decline Between 2012 and 2014

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In this photo taken by Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley earlier this year, a teenage girl and young child are rescued by authorities after becoming lost and dehydrated. They were most likely turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. - U.S. BORDER PATROL
  • U.S. Border Patrol
  • In this photo taken by Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley earlier this year, a teenage girl and young child are rescued by authorities after becoming lost and dehydrated. They were most likely turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

When federal immigration authorities find out that an arrestee—whether it's state, local or the federal level—is an undocumented immigrant, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement places a detainer on the individual.

The detainer allows ICE to take custody of an undocumented immigrant before a law enforcement agency releases the individual.

And those detainers, which number in the thousands, declined by 39 percent from October 2012 to March 2014, according to Syracuse University's Transactional Records Clearing House.

The report, which was released November 12, describes the drop as dramatic and equating to 9,000 fewer detainers issued per month, which translates to 100,000 fewer detainers per year.

"During FY 2012, ... ICE issued over a quarter of a million detainers—an average of 22,832 detainers each month. This volume fell to a monthly average of 17,777 during FY 2013. The most recent data covering the five month period ending in March 2014 reveal that the average monthly number of ICE detainers issued has now fallen to just 13,898," the report states. "The results are based upon detainer-by-detainer records obtained from ICE by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)."

Texas and California, however, account for 42 percent of all detainers issued in the country and both states experienced declines, according to the report.

"However the pattern of their declines differed. At the beginning of the period, California received a much larger number of ICE detainers than Texas. However, the sharper declines in California resulted in Texas ending the period as the state receiving the most ICE detainers. Indeed for part of this period Texas actually experienced a growth in the number of ICE detainers it saw," the report states.

The lingering question is what is causing the decline.

The report's authors reached out to ICE to ask why the agency is issuing fewer detainers, but the immigration agency wouldn't comment (no surprise, there). However, there could be a variety of factors affecting the decline, which the report briefly covers. One of those factors, though, stuck out to this reporter.

"Changes in the agency's geographic focus no doubt also has had an impact on detainer trends. ICE reports that its removals are increasingly coming from apprehensions by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers. There is little need to use detainers when individuals apprehended at the border are directly turned over to ICE for detention and removal," the report states. "However, here it is difficult to disentangle whether the shift to greater border enforcement was a cause or consequence of the falling use of detainers."

When I worked for The Brownsville Herald in Cameron County, I toured the local jail for a story I was working on. One of the supervising jailers there explained to me how every morning, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer visits the jail to check immigration statuses of recent arrestees. This conversation happened sometime last year.

So perhaps the report's suggestion about CBP's role in the decrease in ICE detainers is right on point.

But that's hard to tell, because CBP and ICE rarely comment and when the organizations do comment, they don't say much at all.

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