When Countries Won’t Take Back Their Criminals
Fatal stabbing by illegal Haitian made possible by holes in policy, uncooperative nations
Occasionally, the United States experiences an immigration breakdown so severe that even critics of efforts to crack down on violations take notice. Such is the case of Jean Jacques.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut who generally supports the Obama administration’s lawless approach to uncontrolled immigration, has demanded to know how Jacques was in a position to commit a murder even though he was under orders to be deported.
“It’s been a nightmare every since then. It’s an everyday nightmare … The ball’s been dropped, and people are getting killed.”
The Haitian native fled his home country in 1992 after his father was killed. The U.S. Coast Guard picked him up and he was allowed to enter the United States, despite lacking identification papers. Four years later, he shot one person dead and wounded another in Connecticut. Sentenced to 20 years in prison on an attempted murder charge, he was marked for deportation and handed over to immigration authorities after his prison term.
Had the system worked as it should, that would have been the end of it. But Haiti resisted efforts to send him back and — following a precedent established by the Supreme Court in 2001, setting a six-month limit on how long an immigrant awaiting deportation can be detained — U.S. authorities released him in November 2012. Three years later, he fatally stabbed Casey Chadwick, a 25-year-old Norwich, Connecticut, woman, in a dispute over drugs.
“It’s been a nightmare every since then,” Chadwick’s mother, Wendy Hartling, told LifeZette. “It’s an everyday nightmare.”
Richard Blumenthal has repeatedly demanded answers from federal officials. At a Senate subcommittee hearing in May focusing on border enforcement policies, Blumenthal’s only questions dealt with the Jacques case. At a Judiciary Committee hearing last month, he told Homeland Security Director Jeh Johnson that legislation may be needed to take retaliatory measures against recalcitrant countries.
“Very clearly, this is a work in progress and at some point I’m going to advocate that we use the ultimate sanction that we have available to us, which is to deny visas to these countries if we don’t see more progress,” Blumenthal said.
Hartling said she appreciates Blumenthal's efforts — but added that she does not believe her federal representatives or the executive branch have done enough.
"I'm happy they've done what they've done, but they're still far from fixing this problem. It's a real serious problem," she said. "The ball's been dropped, and people are getting killed."
Report Details Haitian Intransigence
According to a report last month by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general, Haiti rejected three requests to take Jacques back, citing the absence of documentation proving his Haitian citizenship.
"While there are standard practices and informal arrangements regarding repatriation, there are no written agreements between the two countries on this issue," the report states. "ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] could not retrieve Jacques' birth certificate from Haiti, as they are not public documents."
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The report notes that ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations Division did not ask the State Department to intervene, believing such intervention is generally limited to foreigners engaged in terrorism or human rights violations. Officers also did not contact the Haitian consulate in Miami seeking a travel document for Jacques, as the Haitian government suggested. But the inspector general's office wrote that it had no reason to believe such a request would have been treated any differently than the hundreds of times the consulate has failed to comply with similar requests.
Experts said Thursday that past legislative efforts have been stymied. Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism at NumbersUSA, said one proposal is to require the State Department to withhold visas from countries that do not cooperate with deportation proceedings. Chmielenski said the State Department currently has the discretion to do that — but rarely exercises it.
"There have been bills introduced in past Congresses," he said. "We have seen it pop up in legislation before."
In the current Congress, Rep. Brian Babin has introduced legislation that would withhold foreign aid and travel visas. There is no companion Senate bill.
Administration has Unused Tools
Advocates for more robust immigration enforcement said the executive branch has wide latitude to act, even without new legislative authority. They noted that during the George W. Bush administration, the State Department in 2001 threatened to deny visas to Guyana's government officials and their families seeking to come to the United States. Within a couple of months, Guyana backed down and agreed to accept nearly all of the 112 convicted criminals the United States was trying to deport to the South American nation.
"There are things that can be done," said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation of American Immigration Reform. "We can apply pressure to these governments … There's all sorts of leverage we can exert over these rogue nations that we choose not to use."
Homeland Security's inspector general's office is undergoing a second review to determine whether there are "cohesive policy and procedures" to deport priority aliens and whether factors that led to a breakdown in the Jacques case are widespread. Previously released statistics suggest that it is. Citing information provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies reported this month that the Department of Homeland Security listed 23 countries as "uncooperative" with U.S. deportation efforts and another 62 with "strained" cooperation.
In fiscal year 2015, ICE released 2,166 illegal immigrants from custody because their home countries refused to take them. The prior year, the number was 6,100. The vast majority of those under deportation had been convicted of other crimes, said Jessica Vaughan, the director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies.
Vaughan said she has a hard time faulting overworked Customs and Immigration Services officers.
"Could they have done more? Yes," she said. "On the other hand, they're dealing with these cases more frequently … I truly believe that if DHS and the State Departments had made this a high priority and actually invoked sanctions again, a lot of these problems would go away."
Hartling, the Connecticut victim's mother, said she paid little attention to immigration issues before her daughter's murder. Now she's become an activist — one who grows disillusioned when she watches actions like this week's failure to pass a law to defund sanctuary cities.
"They're not fighting hard enough," she said.