In a yearlong investigation, the Rocky Mountain News found that criminal immigrants often go free, while precious time and resources are spent on deporting people who are living in the country without permission but have no criminal record. “If more Americans knew how the system works, they’d be frustrated,” said Tony Rouco of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). “We all are.” Nationally, ICE says it checks the legal status of only about 60 percent of immigrants who commit crimes serious enough to land them in U.S prisons. It recently set a goal of reaching 90 percent by 2009. A federal study last year found that illegal immigrants in prison had been arrested an average of eight times. Another federal study issued in May found that it would cost $1.1 billion for enough detention beds to ensure the deportation of all criminals.
Yet less than half of all deportations from the U.S. last year involved criminals. The other half of the cases involved people who are not criminals. They are people like a Colorado woman on her way to becoming a legal resident who made an unauthorized trip to Mexico because her critically ill mother called for her. “When you throw the net out, you end up getting everything – including the strictly noncriminal types who are just out there working and not causing trouble,” said Douglas Maurer of ICE in Denver. The Rocky Mountain News found that local and federal law-enforcement officials ignore known illegal immigrants – including some already in local custody who have committed crimes – because immigration officials lack the personnel or places to handle them. The News investigation found many criminal immigrants who were overlooked and went on to commit worse crimes.