Immigration Reform

The shooting death last July of a woman on a San Francisco pier sparked another debate about our country's immigration policies. The 32-year-old woman was allegedly killed by a man who had already been deported five times, but continued to return to the U.S.

The alleged shooter had been transferred from a nearby federal prison to the San Francisco sheriff's department. Local authorities there chose to release him despite the fact that officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement asked that the man be turned over to them for deportation.

ICE Gets Priority Over Local Law Enforcement

Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced on Feb. 24 that procedures involving immigrants who are in the country illegally and wound up in the federal prison system are going to change. She said that ICE will now have the first say over what happens to these prisoners when they are released.

Under the new policy, the Bureau of Prisons must give ICE the opportunity to take prisoners that they are releasing into custody if they are facing deportation rather than turn them over to local law enforcement.

Concerns About Deported Federal Prisoners Escaping Further Prosecution

An official with the Center for Immigration Studies, an organization that advocates for tougher immigration law enforcement, said that the new policy is a welcome one. However, she cautions that if a federal prisoner is also facing other charges, local prosecutors need to contact federal authorities to ensure that he or she is turned over for prosecution rather than deported.

Attorney General Lynch also addressed the concern about people escaping prosecution for non-federal crimes. She told a Congressional subcommittee that under the new policy, some local cases may not be prosecuted because the person has been deported. However, she added that "if a jurisdiction has a concern over that, we will talk to them, but we would have to have assurances that ICE would also then be able to get the individual back."

Most immigrants, whether here legally or not, do not commit crimes in the cities in which they settle. However, law-abiding, hard-working immigrants too often face discrimination and vitriol because of those relatively few who do harm. If we can close cracks in the legal and immigration systems that prevent people from facing justice for crimes of which they're accused, everyone will likely benefit.