The list of sanctuary cities has grown to more than 340, and they shielded an average of 1,000 immigrants a month from deportation last year — and more than 2,000 of those released have already been arrested for yet more crimes, according to a report being released Thursday by the Center for Immigration Studies.
Among those released are illegal immigrants accused of murders and brutal assaults, said Jessica Vaughan, the author of the report, which comes just as the Senate is poised to begin debating legislation to try to crack down on sanctuary jurisdictions.
Santa Clara County Jail in California alone released some 1,349 immigrants that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents had asked be held for pickup, the new report says. Los Angeles released 572.
“Our elected officials must not sit back and watch these sanctuary jurisdictions continue to release thousands of criminal aliens back into our communities in defiance of ICE efforts to deport them, and then witness the harm that inevitably ensues when these removable offenders strike again,” saidJessica Vaughan, the report’s author.
Sanctuary cities exploded onto front pages in July, when a Kathryn Steinle, a 32-year-old woman, was killed while walking with her father in San Francisco, and an illegal immigrant released by the county was charged with the shooting.
Ms. Vaughan said San Francisco ranked eighth worst on the list of offenders, releasing some 252 immigrants in 2014 that federal officials had asked be held.
All told, there are now 340 jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate to some extent with federal deportation requests, Ms. Vaughan said, citing ICE numbers. She keeps a tally listing most of those jurisdictions, and recently added nine new names to its list, including Prince George’s County and Montgomery County in Maryland, and Chesterfield County in Virginia.
Ms. Vaughan keeps a map of the known sanctuary jurisdictions at:http://cis.org/Sanctuary-Cities-Map, giving residents a chance to see if they live under one of the controversial policies.
Immigrant-rights advocates defend sanctuary cities, saying that worrying about deportations is a job for the federal government, not local officers. The advocates also say that when local police do cooperate with ICE, it strains relationships with Hispanic communities in particular, who then fear reporting other serious crimes.
The conflict has left Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in the middle. He scrapped the mandatory Secure Communities program that had pushed state and local prisons and jails to hold illegal immigrants, bowing to legal challenges to the program.
But he has instead tried to earn buy-in for a voluntary approach, known as the Priority Enforcement Program or PEP, which asks communities to cooperate, and promises to only ask for the most serious of criminals to be turned over.
On Wednesday, Mr. Johnson defended progress in getting jurisdictions to sign up, saying 13 of the 25 biggest sanctuary localities have expressed interest in cooperating in the PEP.
“More are coming on line and I expect we will reach agreement with major cities in the near future,” the secretary said in a briefing on the state of immigration enforcement, delivered to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.
Mr. Johnson said sanctuary cities’ refusal to cooperate has dented his deportation efforts, and it’s one reason why deportations in fiscal year 2015, which ended Oct. 1, are at their lowest level in a decade, down nearly 50 percent from their peak in 2012.
The secretary said between January 2015 and June 2015 localities released more than 16,000 illegal immigrants that his agents had wanted held for deportation.
Ms. Vaughan, though, said the PEP is a poor substitute because it allows the localities to control the process. Some communities, such as Los Angeles, have agreed to participate but under strict conditions they set, meaning hundreds of illegal immigrants who could be deported will instead be shielded, she said.
The effect of sanctuary cities is huge. If officers can pick up a target from a jail, they can schedule several in a day, and it takes only a few people to do it. But if they have to go out and pick up a target that’s been released, it requires locating the person, a full team to conduct hours of surveillance, a case officer handling paperwork — and the potential for a violent public confrontation.
A bill to crack down on sanctuary cities has already passed the House, and GOP senators introduced their own version this week.
The legislation would require Mr. Johnson to publicly list sanctuary cities, would withhold some federal grant money from those jurisdictions, and spread that money out among other cities, counties and states that do cooperate.
It would also create a mandatory 5-year minimum prison sentence for any illegal immigrant found guilty of twice sneaking into the U.S., or sneaking back even once after getting a previous felony conviction on his or her record.
Ms. Vaughan said that type of legislation is the fastest step Congress could take right now to make an immediate impact on illegal immigration.