"Criminal Alien Program" Netting More Non-Criminals

It’s hard to prevent crime. It’s easier to pretend to look tough on crime by imprisoning gardeners, constructions workers, and baby-sitters. These are our “criminal aliens,” brought to a (security) theater near you.

While the phrase “criminal alien” strikes fear in the hearts of many, and there are those who prefer to consider any undocumented immigrant to be a “criminal alien,” the term is actually reserved for foreign-born non-citizens who pose a real danger to society.

Congress has made clear that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) should have “no greater immigration enforcement priority than to remove deportable aliens with serious criminal histories from the United States.” But ICE has not lived up to this priority.

A new report released by the Immigration Policy Center on the “Criminal Alien Program,” which is supposed to use federal-local cooperation to screen, target, and remove serious foreign-born convicts from the United States, shows that the program has been deporting more legal and non-criminal immigrants. In simple words, the “Criminal Alien Program” is catching less “criminal aliens” and more non-criminals who are no real threats to public safety.

The CAPS report tells us that the program apprehends immigrants who are not criminals at all. A recent Department of Homeland Security report further shows that 57 percent of immigrants identified through the CAP program in FY 2009 had no criminal convictions, up from 53 percent in FY 2008. In Travis County, TX, a majority of immigrants placed under detainer were arrested for a misdemeanor as their most serious charge. In 2008, 58 percent of the detainers were placed on those charged with misdemeanors — up from 38 percent in 2007 and 34 percent in 2006.

In addition, CAPS increases costs through longer incarceration periods. In Travis County, the FY2008 cost of housing was $2,570,955, while the federal government only reimbursed $1,239,273. Hence, Travis County actually spent more money incarcerating immigrants than it received from the federal government in reimbursements, thereby losing money. And we know who profits from immigrant injustice: the migrant-military complex.

An older report from Boalt School of Law also confirms that CAP has enabled police departments to engage in rampant racial profiling. In that study, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley found a 150% increase in the arrest rate of Latinos after local law enforcement in Irving racially profiled while arresting people on minor charges in order to filter them through the CAP screening system.

It’s time to put a cap on CAP or overhaul the program to actually serve the security needs of the public at large.

Photo credit: No Borders and Binaries

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