Whether or not to release illegal immigrant convicts in federal custody back to local authorities has been a pressing concern since last year’s murder of a 32-year old woman by Juan Sanchez, an illegal Mexican immigrant. After Sanchez’s arrest and conviction for the murder, he was released from San Francisco jail due to the city’s sanctuary laws, despite a request from federal immigration authorities to keep Sanchez in custody to await deportation.
A more recent event, the shooting of Stacey Aguilar by her boyfriend and confirmed illegal immigrant Esmid Pedraza, has further pushed for change in the policy allowing local police forces to prosecute or release illegal immigrants without conferring with ICE authorities.
To avoid these incidents from reoccurring, ICE officials have been informally granted a right of first refusal when a federal prisoner who completes a federal sentence is wanted by local authorities for other crimes.
About 400 to 500 federal prisoners are released to local authorities each year upon request, while a vast majority of others are still held in federal custody. To avoid a repeat of the Pedraza incident, ICE officials hope to refuse local authorities’ requests for custody if they are particularly uncooperative police forces, such as San Francisco’s.
This recent shift in policy has come as a relief to both Republicans and the Obama administration. Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, wholeheartedly accepts the change, while Rep. Harold Rodgers, R-Kentucky, is more reserved, stating that he “believes in the old saying of trusting and verifying.”
Doris Meissner, the top immigration official under the Clinton administration, suggested that the policy may be an attempt to stall more drastic proposals in Congress aimed at punishing cities with sanctuary laws like San Francisco from openly impeding the federal government’s role in immigration control and deportation.