In an interview with Telemundo this past January, President Barack Obama defended his administration's deportation of record numbers of undocumented immigrants - over 400,000 in 2012 - by telling the network, "What we've seen is that the people who are being deported, the vast majority of them now are criminals."  But a new report released today by TRAC Immigration based on newly released government data mounts a serious challenge to the president's assertion: less than one in nine (10.8 percent) of those undocumented arrestees targeted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) "detainers" meet the ICE's criteria for being a serious threat to public safety.

"Detainers", or immigration holds, are requests sent by ICE to local police departments asking them to hold an arrested individual even after normal proceedings are done with, so that the ICE can send its agents to the local jail to take the arrestee into federal custody.  They're used in most of the 1,508 counties in the 44 states where the Secure Communities program is in place.  Under Secure Communities, when someone is arrested by local police, their fingerprints get sent to the FBI to be matched against their database, then to ICE for the same purpose.  If an individual is determined by ICE to be deportable, they send a detainer, which is good for up to 48 hours, to give their agents time to get to the location where the arrestee is being held. 

Last December, the ICE issued new guidelines on who should be the object of detainers in what it called an attempt to "ensure that ICE's finite enforcement resources [were] dedicated, to the greatest extent possible, to individuals whose removal promotes public safety, national security, border security, and the integrity of the immigration system."  The agency appears to have been interpreting those priorities rather broadly: according to the TRAC report, only 38 percent of those individuals for whom ICE issued a detainer had any record of a criminal conviction, a category which included minor traffic violations.  If traffic violations, including DWIs, and marijuana possession violations were left out, only 26 percent of individuals who were the object of detainers had a conviction on their record.  And the December guidelines appear to have done little: since they were issued, the percentage of detainers issued for individuals without a conviction actually went up.

TRAC wrote that it had based its report on newly released records featuring data for months ending in June 2013.  The ICE had not responded to earlier Freedom of Information Act requests for that data during the months of February and April, said the report. 

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