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Undocumented Immigrants With No Criminal Record Still Targeted For Detention

An analysis found that federal officials continue to ask local police to hold immigrants with no convictions, a practice that was supposed to stop under reforms announced two years ago.

Last updated on August 10, 2016, at 3:51 p.m. ET

Posted on August 9, 2016, at 8:10 p.m. ET

Richard Drew / AP

Undocumented immigrants with no criminal record continue to be targeted for federal detention despite reforms meant to curb the practice, according to an analysis released Tuesday.

For years, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement had faced growing criticism for targeting undocumented immigrants with no criminal record and asking local police to hold them longer than they normally would for federal pick up.

In 2014, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced the end of that cooperative system in favor of the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), which would instead focus on a narrower group of undocumented immigrants considered a priority for deportation, particularly anyone who has a criminal conviction.

Yet Johnson’s directives have had little affect on how ICE field offices seek the so-called detainers. The analysis by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University found that during the first two months of Fiscal Year 2016, ICE continued to target people who had no criminal record at a slightly higher rate than before the changes.

TRAC / Via

Only one quarter met the standards for being ICE’s top priority for deportation, or those with serious crime convictions. Compared with 2014, there was an 8% increase in requests to hold people without convictions.

Johnson also directed ICE to end requests for police detention and instead ask that local authorities notify the feds when a person of interest was going to be released from custody soon.

The change came after a number of federal court rulings that found holding people longer than usual for ICE violated the Fourth Amendment.

TRAC’s analysis found that four out of every five detainer requests asked local police to hold people longer than their normal period, rather than the new protocol where ICE is just notified.

Chris Newman, legal director for the National Day Labor Organizing Network, said a hallmark of the Obama administration’s so-called ‘felons not families’ deportation programs has been misrepresentations about the extent to which immigration authorities is fused with the criminal justice system.

“ICE was already a rogue law enforcement agency by almost any definition,” Newman said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. “Yet the president’s policy, and frankly his rhetoric, have emboldened ICE agents to mine the mass incarceration system to beef up deportation numbers."

ICE declined to comment on the analysis because it was performed by an external organization. In a statement a spokesperson said the Department of Homeland Security is continuing to build partnerships with local police and community leaders on PEP.

"To ensure a common-sense approach that focuses enforcement resources on convicted criminals and individuals who threaten public safety and national security while also taking into account important community policing needs,” the spokesperson said.

In the past, the agency has said that a recent review of undocumented immigrants in detention facilities found that 99.5% met their enforcement priorities.

Additionally, ICE said that data, such as past convictions, is often lacking when a detainer request is issued to local police. This could be due to unavailable information at the moment and the need to send a detainer in a short period of time.

Detainer requests are the first step, ICE said, followed by arrest and removal. The percentage of convictions at the time of an arrest or removal would be much higher compared to detainers.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.