Cornyn: Time Left to Fix Immigration's Individual Flaws

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn on Wednesday blasted immigration officials while calling on Congress and the president to fix a problem that led to the release of more than 2,800 sex offenders from federal custody.

During a conference call with reporters, Cornyn, R-Texas, cited a report issued last week by the Government Accountability Office that said about 5 percent — or 2,837 — of released criminal aliens were convicted of sex offenses. That's out of about 59,000 criminal aliens released under the supervision of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as of September 2012.

It’s a matter that can be fixed regardless of what happens with comprehensive immigration reform, Cornyn said. Lawmakers from both parties expressed optimism this year at their chances of radically overhauling the country's immigration system. But with fall approaching, momentum is fading as Congress still faces issues like health care and the economy.

The GAO report evaluated how well ICE’s enforcement and removal operations adhered to the requirements of a 2006 federal law that spells out the minimum standards for sex offender registration and notification.

The immigrants were released due to a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Zadvydas v. Davis, that said immigrants cannot be detained indefinitely in the U.S. if their home countries won’t accept them back.

It is unclear what level of offenses were committed by the immigrants cited in the report or where in the U.S. they were released. But Cornyn said the fact they were let go at all underscores a flaw in the immigration system.

“When people see something like this happen, it obviously undermines public confidence in the government as a whole, not to mention the threat to innocent people across the country who are exposed to convicted sex offenders,” he said.

In March, Cornyn lambasted the Obama administration after it released as many as 700 criminal aliens onto Texas streets, citing budget cuts and the federal sequester. This time, Cornyn said the blame shouldn’t be laid completely at the president’s feet.

“I think this is evidence of the broken system and I am not criticizing solely the administration. I think Congress bears its fair share of blame,” he said. “We can provide more of a rifle-shot remedy for this specific issue on a short turnaround basis.”

Cornyn said he hoped the supervision mechanisms in place were stellar because it appeared, he said, that the aliens were just “turned loose.” Report authors, who used a sample of aliens under supervision to form their analysis, estimated between 22 and 127 sex offenders were not registered but should have been. 

“Without mechanisms in place to consistently inform alien sex offenders who are released … about their registration requirements, and consistently notify jurisdictions when an alien sex offender has been removed from the country or released under supervision, the risk that alien sex offenders will reside in U.S. communities without being registered is increased,” they concluded.

On Tuesday, Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, made public a report indicating that most immigrants with an ICE detainer had not committed even a minor crime — despite the government’s claim that it focuses first on deporting criminal aliens.

The detainer is placed on a person after ICE requests the arresting state or local agency hold the alleged criminal until immigration officials can take them into custody.

Only 14 percent of the detainers issued in the 2012 fiscal year and the first four months of the 2013 fiscal year met the “agency's goal of targeting individuals who pose a serious threat,” TRAC officials said. “In fact, roughly half of the 347,691 individuals subject to an ICE detainer (47.7 percent) had no record of a criminal conviction, not even a minor traffic violation,” they added.

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