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Majority of Immigrant Detainees in San Diego Don’t Have Criminal Convictions, Data Shows

In San Diego County, 563 of 959 people in ICE custody, or 59 percent, have no criminal conviction, according to newly released data. ICE disputes the numbers but did not release San Diego-specific data.

A female detainee is escorted to the intake section of the Otay Mesa Detention Center. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

More than half of individuals in Immigration and Customs Detention nationwide and in San Diego County don’t have criminal convictions, according to new data released by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a nonpartisan research entity at Syracuse University.

TRAC obtained records for more than 44,000 individuals being held in detention facilities by ICE across the country on June 30. The analysis paints a picture of who the agency has been detaining.

ICE press releases of immigrant arrests constantly characterize those arrested as dangerous. But TRAC’s data finds that 58 percent of individuals in custody had no criminal record.

In San Diego County, 563 of 959 people in ICE custody, or 59 percent, have no criminal conviction, according to the data. Another 9 percent have misdemeanor convictions for illegal entry or driving under the influence – the two most common criminal convictions of detainees in the county.

ICE disputes TRAC’s numbers.

ICE spokeswoman Sarah Rodriguez said in an e-mailed statement that an analysis of ICE’s detainee population at “nearly the same time” – on June 23 – showed that 54 percent had a criminal conviction or pending charges.

Seventy percent of the detainee population was subject to “mandatory detention,” Rodriguez said. Federal immigration laws mandate the detention of immigrants who may be involved in terrorism, have certain criminal convictions, who have recently arrived at the border or those who are in the expedited removal process, according to ICE.

ICE did not release San Diego-specific numbers about detainees with criminal convictions.

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement focuses detention resources on mandatory detention cases and aliens with criminal activity; however, no category of alien is exempt from enforcement,” Rodriguez said. “All aliens in ICE custody are detained as a result of immigration violations. … As an agency, ICE is charged with administrative civil detention, which means individuals who come into ICE custody can only be detained for the purposes of furthering an immigration case or removal from the country. ICE makes custody determinations in accordance with U.S. law and [Department of Homeland Security] policy.”

ICE has increasingly been arresting unauthorized immigrants without any criminal history under the Trump administration. At the end of September, ICE concluded an enforcement operation in San Diego that resulted in 84 arrests. Twenty-five of those individuals were convicted criminals.

In its press release about the operation, ICE pointed to the California Values Act, which went into effect in January and limits cooperation between local law enforcement and ICE, saying it would increase “collateral arrests” or arrests of people who were not targeted by ICE because of their criminal history or for other reasons.

“While most local law enforcement agencies in cities throughout the nation do cooperate with ICE, California laws force ICE to focus resources to conduct at-large arrests in the community, which puts ICE officers, the public and the aliens at greater risk, and increases the number of collateral arrests,” the press release says.

Arrests of non-criminals increased by 66 percent in the first nine months of the 2018 fiscal year, compared with the same period a year earlier, the Associated Press reported last month. ICE arrests of people convicted of crimes rose by nearly 2 percent in the same timeframe.

California has the second highest number of immigrant detainees in the country after Texas, where 29 percent of ICE detainees are held, according to the TRAC data. In June, California had 5,783 ICE detainees.

The detention center with the highest number of detainees was the Stewart Detention Center located in Lumpkin, Georgia, run by CoreCivic, with 1,839 detainees. The Adelanto ICE Processing Center in San Bernardino County, which was slammed by a government watchdog report for its conditions last week, followed closely with 1,831.

The Otay Mesa Detention Facility in San Diego County holds the second highest number of detainees in the state, according to TRAC, with 956 ICE detainees in June. The detention center has plans to expand.

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