Pelosi, Lofgren Call for Review of Policies Pertaining to the Release of Federal Prisoners with Immigration Detainers

July 22, 2015
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – In the wake of the July 1 shooting of 32-year-old San Francisco resident Kathryn Steinle, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) are calling for a review of the policies and practices pertaining to federal prisoners with immigration detainers, writing in a letter that efforts should be made to improve communication and make local communities safer.

The letter, addressed to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, notes that the individual charged in connection with the shooting, Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez, was transferred from Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) custody to the San Francisco Sheriff's Department based on a warrant for a 20-year-old drug offense. Under current policy, state and Federal criminal matters generally must be resolved before Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will accept custody of an inmate for deportation.

Pelosi and Lofgren write:

"This policy generally makes sense, because justice demands that a person who commits a crime be held to answer for that offense. Moreover, a person who stands accused of a crime deserves the opportunity to appear in court to repond to the charges. To civilly deport all defendants and deny the ability of states and localities to pursue criminal prosecution would prevent such objectives."

"However, in some circumstances, rigid adherence to this policy may not actually serve the interests of justice. Rather, where the outstanding criminal warrant pertains to a particularly old charge not involving violence or serious damage to property – as was the case here – and the state or local prosecutor is unlikely to proceed with a prosecution, there is no purpose to be served in deferring deportation. 

"When [The Bureau of Prisons] is deciding whether to respect a federal immigration detainer or a non-federal criminal detainer, it would seem to be advantageous for the BOP, ICE, and the state or local jurisdiction to communicate regarding the competing interests at stake. Such a conversation would have to involve not only the law enforcement entity that is asserting the detainer as a result of the outstanding criminal warrant, but also the prosecuting entity that ultimately will decide whether or not to pursue prosecution."

Adopting this protocol would facilitate the removal of high-priority individuals, as well as "preserve limited time, money, and manpower that state or local law enforcement entities would otherwise expend needlessly" by retrieving individuals from federal custody who "simply will not be prosecuted."  The full text of the letter is available here.

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