Rush Limbaugh accused the Obama administration of releasing "hardened illegal alien criminals" into U.S. communities. In fact, more than two-thirds of the immigrants who were released had no criminal record; moreover, all the immigrants are under supervised release and will still go through deportation proceedings.
As the Arizona Republic reported, during a congressional hearing on March 14, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton testified that 2,228 immigrants were released from detention during a three-week period in early February, ahead of the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration.
Discussing Morton's testimony on his radio show, Limbaugh claimed that all of the immigrants released were undocumented, adding that they "weren't in jail because they're illegal; they were in jail because they've committed genuine crimes." He went on to call them "hardened illegal alien criminals" and stated that the administration's decision was "all about inflicting pain" and had to do with President Obama "winning the political point."
But as the Republic noted, more than 70 percent of the detained immigrants released had no criminal conviction. Morton's testimony also made clear that of the released detainees who had criminal records, none were convicted of violent crimes, and those immigrants were released only "after careful scrutiny by ICE officials." In addition, data show that the majority of immigrants ICE detains -- the number hovers around 30,000 individuals every year -- have committed no crime.
In a 2009 comprehensive review of ICE's immigration detention program, then-Homeland Security Special Adviser Dora Schriro found that only 11 percent of detained immigrants that year were violent criminals. She further noted:
On average, an alien is detained 30 days. The length of detention however, varies appreciably between those pursuing voluntary removals and those seeking relief. As much as 25 percent of the detained population is released within one day of admission, 38 percent within a week, 71 percent in less than a month, and 95 percent within four months. Less than one percent of all admissions, about 2,100 aliens, are detained for a year or more.
Schriro also found that those detained included about 2,800 women, 1,400 immigrants who had fled their home countries to seek asylum in the United States, and 38 families with children.
A 2009 Associated Press review of ICE data uncovered similar findings: nearly 3 in 5 detainees held by the agency had no criminal conviction -- "not even for illegal entry or low-level crimes like trespassing," as the AP put it:
[An] Associated Press computer analysis of every person being held on a recent Sunday night shows that most did not have a criminal record and many were not about to leave the country -- voluntarily or via deportation.
An official Immigration and Customs Enforcement database, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, showed a U.S. detainee population of exactly 32,000 on the evening of Jan. 25.
The data show that 18,690 immigrants had no criminal conviction, not even for illegal entry or low-level crimes like trespassing. More than 400 of those with no criminal record had been incarcerated for at least a year. A dozen had been held for three years or more; one man from China had been locked up for more than five years.
The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse -- a data research organization at Syracuse University -- performed a four-year review of ICE data, from FY 2008 to the start of FY 2012, and found that of the individuals ICE asked law enforcement to detain, more than three-quarters had no criminal record:
An immigration "detainer," often called an "immigration hold," is a notice that Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents issue to local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. It is a primary tool ICE uses to apprehend suspected noncitizens being held by these authorities.
In more than two out of three (77.4%) of the detainers issued by ICE, the record shows that the individual who had been identified had no criminal record -- either at the time the detainer was issued or subsequently. For the remaining 22.6 percent that had a criminal record, only 8.6 percent of the charges were classified as a Level 1 offense.
TRAC went on to report: "Not unexpectedly, most (95%) involved males. The median age was 30. There were 5,895 individuals with detainers that were under 18, and 28,489 who were recorded as 65 years of age or older. Most (72.7%) were recorded as Mexican citizens."
While Morton did not specify the immigration status of those who were released, TRAC found during its review that ICE has detained permanent residents, as well as American citizens -- which is illegal since Americans cannot be deported. According to TRAC, ICE issued detainers for more than 800 U.S. citizens and nearly 30,000 permanent residents.
ICE has since issued new guidelines on the use of immigration detainers to prioritize those with criminal convictions.
Limbaugh previously blasted the decision to release detained immigrants as a "political ploy" and an "illegal order."