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ICE Crackdown on Dangerous Criminals Raises Questions About Plea Deals

Plea deals are leaving dangerous criminals on the streets

A ride-along shows how federal immigration officials track down undocumented criminals. Jonathan Dienst reports.

(Published Tuesday, April 4, 2017)

A child sex-abuser and a convicted rapist are among the 31 undocumented immigrants arrested this week in New York by federal immigration officers.

Homeland Security officials said they were specifically targeting those with criminal records and those with removal orders by an immigration judge. 

The Trump administration and sanctuary cities like New York have been at odds at how far local authorities should go in aiding the feds looking to deport undocumented immigrants with criminal offenses.

News 4 New York cameras were in the Bronx in the early morning hours as Enforcement and Removal Officers with Immigration and Customs Enforcement staked out numerous locations looking for the specific targets.

“We’re doing targeted enforcement actions,” said Thomas Decker director of of ICE’s ERO section in New York. “We don’t do sweeps. We don’t do raids. We don’t do checkpoints … We go after the criminal cases, the ones that are threats.”

One 45-year-old suspect from Honduras, who in the past was arrested on 15 counts of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old child, was taken into custody. Officials said he was able to plead guilty to one count and serve than less than a year in jail because prosecutors did not want the 12-year-old to face the ordeal of testifying.

Officials asked News 4 not to reveal suspects names because of privacy concerns over ongoing investigations.

An undocumented immigrant from Antigua with two past gun arrests was also targeted. He too was able to take a guilty plea for a lesser charge than felony gun possession and was released from jail even though Homeland Security agents had asked the city to hold him and turn him over. Despite hours of stakeouts, agents did not find him and he remains on the street.

“So now we’re looking for him,” Decker said. “You are talking about extra resources now instead of having him last month and taking him right from the facility.”

Mayor de Blasio said the city cooperates in turning over undocumented criminals only where serious crimes were committed – more than 170 crimes in all.

Jan Brown, head of the New York State Bar Association Immigration Committee, said if dangerous criminals are getting plea deals to get lesser jail time and to avoid being listed as deportable then “look at the plea bargain system.”

Brown said some undocumented criminals, like the suspect who sexually abused the 12-year-old, is a troubling example.

“That being the case, you don’t want to have a draconian policy and say let’s just deport everybody,” Brown said.

Brown asked as an example if a mother who stole a gallon of milk is someone who should be deported.

Last month before a state senate committee, Mayor de Blasio said he would consider adding other crimes to the city’s list that allow for jail officials to turn over the undocumented to immigration authorities. But the mayor said he does not want the city turning over people who have committed minor crimes.

"If someone is convicted of a violent or serious felony, we want to cooperate with ICE to get them off our streets," mayoral spokeswoman Rosemary Boeglin wrote in an email to News 4. 

"But we will not be complicit in tearing apart the vast majority of immigrant families that present no threat to public safety whatsoever," she said. 

Of the 31 people arrested by DHS officers this week, 12 had DWI convictions and 5 faced drug dealing or related counts. Others were picked up for past convictions for robbery, larceny and mail fraud.

“Law enforcement operations like this should reassure the public that ICE is committed to putting public safety first,” Decker said.

The Trump administration has threatened to cut off federal funding for cities like New York if they do not cooperate more to help federal authorities deport undocumented immigrants with criminal records.

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