Do you want to lock up children and families fleeing violence or serious criminals?

Amid all of the justified outcry regarding the unconscionable conditions under which this country is detaining children and families fleeing danger from some of the most dangerous countries on earth, we are failing to lock up serious criminals.

Syracuse University maintains extensive records of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) activity. The records are maintained by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) These reports can be found here.

A report based on their statistics was published on June 25, 2019, based on the latest available data of December 2018. The title of the report tells much of the story – ICE Focus Shifts Away from Detaining Serious Criminals.  This report compares a “snapshot” of individuals in ICE custody. As of December 31, 2018, the number of ICE detainees was up 22 percent compared to individuals held at the end of September 2016. This is not surprising but the most distressing takeaway from this report is the statement “ The most striking change over this 27 month period was a dramatic drop in the number of individuals held who had committed serious crimes. Despite the increasing number of individuals detained, fewer and fewer immigrants convicted of serious felonies were arrested and held in custody by the agency. Their numbers had dropped by over twelve hundred (-1253), while total ICE detainees ballooned by over eight-six hundred (8,676) during the same period. Immigrants who had never been convicted of even a minor violation shot up 39%”. That is a 39% increase in those with not even a minor violation compared to a 17% drop in detention for those with serious convictions.

As mentioned these figures were obtained as of December 2018. Anyone who has been looking at the news about all of the children and families detained will understand that the numbers are even worse today than they were in December.

So, what are our priorities here? Do we want to lock up children and law-abiding persons or do we want to lock up those who have already been convicted of serious crimes?  It is astonishing that this is a question that we must ask.

Linda M Kaplan