Local jurisdictions failed to honor immigration holds on 206 illegal immigrants in just one week at the end of January and beginning of February, according to a report issued Monday by the Department of Homeland Security.
And Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials warned that number is misleadingly small, since policy in the administration of former President Obama was to not put holds on illegal immigrants in jurisdictions that had firm “sanctuary” policies.
“I think it could do something in some of these places that are not the die-hards.”
Under President Donald Trump’s administration, ICE has begun issuing detainers regardless of the local policy. That should cause those numbers to climb, according to ICE.
The report, created as part of Trump’s executive order  on illegal immigration issued in January, will be updated weekly. The first tally covers the period from Jan. 28 to Feb. 3. Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration studies, said shining a spotlight on defiance of ICE could prompt a revolt from residents of those cities and counties.
“I think it could do something in some of these places that are not the die-hards,” she said. “If nothing else, they may adjust [their policies].”
During the week covered in the report, ICE placed holds, or detainers, on 3,083 illegal immigrants in local jurisdictions. During the same week, ICE learned of the release of 206 illegal immigrants whom federal authorities had asked to be turned over to immigration officials for deportation.
Those denied detainers came from ICE long before that week in most cases, however. ICE authorities said they often do not know a detainer has not been honored until they encounter the illegal immigrant again.
The data reported Monday includes a high number of immigrants charged or convicted of assault, DUI, and other offenses. Philadelphia released a Jamaican national who had been charged with homicide. The Riverside Regional Jail in Hopewell City, Virginia, released a Guatemalan convicted of rape.
The Los Angeles Police Department Valley Jail in Van Nuys released one illegal immigrant convicted of an arson that endangered human life. The Travis City Jail in Travis County, Texas, released four illegal immigrants who had been charged with robbery, another charged with kidnapping, and several charged with sexual assault and child molestation.
Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism at NumbersUSA, said sanctuary policies are consistently unpopular in public polling.
“If these hometown newspapers are going to start covering these list … that’s certainly going to pressure these sanctuary city politicians,” he said.
Chmielenski noted the Trump administration also has threatened to cut off federal funding to sanctuary jurisdictions.
“If they start to lose funding, too, because of these policies, then I think it’s going to start seeing people changing their tunes,” he said.
The vast majority of the detainer denials , 142, came from just one jurisdiction — Travis County.
“It looks like the Travis County jail, somebody just decided to do a jailbreak,” Vaughan said.
An ICE official said the Travis County number is so high because the jurisdiction only recently changed its policy and because authorities encountered many illegal immigrants on the street because officers conducted a special enforcement operation.
The policy, adopted by the Travis County Sheriff's Office in January, states that the county will accept hold requests accompanied by a court order and that the department will accept requests involving inmates charged or convicted of capital murder, first-degree murder, aggravated sexual assault, or continuous smuggling of people.
Vaughan said the number of rejected detainers likely will shoot up once ICE starts requesting holds on prisoners in jurisdictions with expansive policies. The Obama administration did not do that.
"They just unilaterally disarmed," she said.
Vaughan said the number of requests likely also will increase dramatically since the Obama administration had such a narrow focus on only the most serious criminals. She said the 3,083 requests issued during the week covered by the report could easily double based on statistics from fiscal year 2011.
That year, ICE issued 316,170 detainers.