ICE Is Issuing Fewer Immigration Holds, But Not Sticking to New Guidelines

By Kenrya Rankin Sep 09, 2015

According to data collected by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), the federal government is issuing a decreasing number of immigration holds, which is when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials request that state and local police detain suspected undocumented immigrants until they can be taken into federal custody. TRAC compared the number of detainer requests in October 2014 (11,355) and April 2015 (7,993), the most recent month available, and discovered a 30 percent drop in requests.

TRAC used the October 2014 number data because it was the month immediately preceding the November 2014 ICE announcement that it would discontinue the program, called Secure Communities, that it used to issue the holds. The program had increasingly attracted criticism from immigrant rights advocates, federal court challenges and pushback from legislators and law enforcement agencies who refused to participate. Moving forward, ICE said it would employ the Priority Enforcement Program, where law enforcement would forward fingerprint data and ICE would only transfer people who had been convicted of a specific set of offenses or who posed “a danger to national security.” The revamped program would also call for “notification” of pending release, rather than extended detention, except in cases were “the person is subject to a final order of removal or there is other sufficient probably cause to find that the person is a removable alien.”

But TRAC notes that the holds, or detainers, were already on a decline: When they compared FY 2013 to the first half of the following year, there was a 39 percent drop. In fact the number of detainers issued has been dropping since March 2011, when it peaked at 27,916. That slide falls in line with increased advocacy efforts and resistance to the program. It’s still too early to determine the scope of the notification program, as the details of the system were just put in place in June.

The ICE data, which was obtained via Freedom of Information Requests, also shows that the agency is not following Priority Enforcement Program guidelines that would limit holds to people convicted of certain crimes. In April 2015, 32 percent of those who were held were actually convicted offenders. Coupled with data that shows that from 2012 to 2013, half of those detained had been convicted, it is clear that ICE is actually holding a larger proportion of non-offenders.