Politics

Noncitizens Make Up One in Five Federal Prisoners, Report Shows

Trump administration officials say numbers demonstrate the need for tougher enforcement, including building the border wall

Noncitizens account for about one of every five federal prisoners, according to a report released Thursday that blew a massive hole in the conventional wisdom in media and government that immigrants commit fewer crimes than natural-born citizens.

The joint report prepared by the department of Homeland Security and Justice shows that 58,766 known or suspected noncitizens — mostly illegal immigrants — were imprisoned by the federal Bureau of Prisons or a pretrial detention facility as of Sept. 30, 2017.

The report made public Thursday was the third issued since President Donald Trump mandated that the information be collected every three months as part of his executive order on immigration in January.

Officials said the numbers highlight the importance of carrying out the president’s immigration-enforcement priorities, including completing construction of a credible wall along the southwest border.

“While the administration is working diligently to remove dangerous criminal aliens from our streets, this report highlights the fact that more must be done,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a prepared statement.

Similarly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Americans deserve an immigration system that serves the national interest.

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“But at the border and in communities across America, our citizens are being victimized by illegal aliens who commit crimes,” he stated. “Nearly 95 percent of confirmed aliens in our federal prisons are here illegally.”

The report does not provide information about the types of crimes that noncitizen prisoners committed. But senior administration officials, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission indicates that noncitizens make up a disproportionate share of prisoners held on certain offenses, such as immigration violations, drug trafficking and drug possession.

“These results clearly show the need for President Trump’s immigration priorities, including securing our border, enhancing interior enforcement and pursuing a merit-based immigration system,” an official said.

Another official said stronger border defenses would save the criminal justice system money.

“It reveals, in our view, that our unsecure southern border needs to have a stronger deterrent than what we have right now,” another official said. “If we had a barrier, a border wall, along the southern border, it is undeniable that more of those offenses will not have to be prosecuted and that we will not have to pay to incarcerate aliens for committing such offenses along the southern border.”

“It is absolutely a myth that they don’t commit crimes,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Independent experts said the latest figures offer fresh confirmation that America has a huge problem with illegal immigrant crime.

“It is absolutely a myth that they don’t commit crimes,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Mehlman, whose organization favors stricter enforcement and lower levels of legal immigration, acknowledged that the vast majority of migrants are law-abiding other than offenses related to their illegal border crossings. But he said even a small percentage of lawbreakers equates to significant numbers because of the sheer size of the immigrant population.

“Even if it is a small number, it is unnecessary,” he said.

Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, said illegal immigrants bear a significant share of responsibility for certain types of crimes.

“Not every person who comes to the country illegally is coming just to support their family … It refutes this idea that there are no public safety consequences of illegal immigration,” she said.

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Significantly, the report does not include data on state prisons and local jails, where the vast majority of criminals and suspects are held. Administration officials said they are working to gather that information. They said it is too soon to judge whether so-called sanctuary jurisdictions are resisting efforts to gather the data.

“That is a process that will take some time,” an administration official said. “Clearly, there are jurisdictions who want to work with us, who want to partner with us, in the enforcement of our immigration laws.”

Mehlman said he anticipates resistance.

“There has been an effort not to know these things,” he said.

Administration officials also touted their efforts to expedite the deportation of illegal immigrants who are serving federal sentences. The number of locations where officials work to obtain deportation orders for prisoners before they finish their sentences has been expanded from 13 to 21.

That matters, an official said, because prisoners who end their sentences without deportation orders must be held for months or even years at Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities.

“There would be significant costs associated with that,” he said.

PoliZette senior writer Brendan Kirby can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter here.

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