Federal immigration officials allowed scores of violent criminals – some ordered deported decades ago – to walk away from Harris County Jail in Texas despite the inmates’ admission to local authorities that they were in the country illegally, reports the Houston Chronicle. A review of thousands of criminal and immigration records shows that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials didn’t file the paperwork to detain roughly 75 percent of the more than 3,500 inmates who told jailers during the booking process that they were in the U.S. illegally.
Although most of the inmates released from custody were accused of minor crimes, hundreds of convicted felons – including child molesters, rapists and drug dealers – also managed to avoid deportation after serving time in Harris County’s jails, according to documents filed over a period of eight months starting in June 2007, the earliest immigration records available. The investigation found that the federal government’s system to identify and deport illegal immigrants in Harris County Jail is overwhelmed and understaffed. Gaps in the system have allowed some convicted criminals to avoid detection by immigration officials despite being previously deported. The problems are national in scope, fueled by a shortage of money and manpower.