How ‘Sanctuary Cities’ Are Costing American Lives
How ‘Sanctuary Cities’ Are Costing American Lives

By Simon Hankinson

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) asked police in Montgomery County, Maryland, 119 times this year to detain and hand over criminal aliens they had arrested, individuals whose records included “convictions for assault, robbery, illegal firearms, sex abuse of a minor, rape, and MS-13 gang membership,” former ICE official John Feere says.

Montgomery County hasn’t honored a single request.

ICE “detainers” are a request from federal law enforcement to their state and local colleagues to let them know when a foreign national (“alien” in immigration law) is going to be released from custody after having been arrested or after having served time for a criminal conviction. That’s so ICE can take them into federal custody pending removal or during any legal process needed to deport them.

Illegal aliens are deportable under immigration law simply for being here illegally, but they can apply for relief such as asylum. Some have legitimate asylum cases, fearing for their lives if they are returned to their home countries, but the majority clog the system with bogus claims so they can stay in the United States for years—often indefinitely. But being convicted of a crime makes illegal aliens doubly deportable under other sections of the law.

When detainers are honored, ICE can lock potentially violent alien suspects or convicts safely away from the public. Unfortunately, many local and even state governments in the United States have “sanctuary” policies, one of which is to refuse to inform ICE when they arrest or release an alien.

What that means for Americans from Atlantic City, New Jersey, to Zebulon, New Mexico, is that convicts who are highly likely to reoffend are being released into their neighborhoods every day. For the leftists who currently control U.S. immigration policy, the ideology of open borders and defunding law enforcement trumps your safety and security every time.

Here are a few examples of how sanctuary jurisdictions’ refusal to honor detainers puts Americans at risk.

In October 2019, Carlos Orlando Iraheta-Vega, a 20-year-old illegal alien, was charged with beating a 16-year-old high school student to death with a baseball bat after an argument. Mr. Iraheta-Vega entered the United States illegally when he was younger than 18, benefiting from immigration policy that coddles “unaccompanied alien minors,” and joined (or rejoined) the Salvadoran gang MS-13.

As reported in The Washington Times, in November 2018, he was arrested for stealing a car. Shortly after, he was arrested for drunk driving. He added another DUI arrest to his record in the summer of 2019. Each time, the “sanctuary” policies of King County, Washington, set him free before ICE could pick him up. Local police and prison authorities ignored all of ICE’s detainer requests and cut him loose without informing the agency.

Mr. Iraheta-Vega was able to live the gangster life—despite being an illegal alien—with impunity. Until he killed someone.

Now remember—this was in 2019, when ICE had White House support in asking sanctuary jurisdictions to help them deport dangerous criminals. Imagine how things are now under President Joe Biden and his enforcement-averse secretary of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas.

Sanctuary cities and counties can be found all over the country, in blue states and red. But their effects are the same everywhere: heightened, preventable risks to the public from criminal convicts who have no right to remain in the country.

In another example, in June 2021, an unnamed Honduran man was caught entering the United States illegally near Roma, Texas. Under the Biden “catch-and-release” policy, Border Patrol gave him a notice to appear in court (many months later) and released him. We don’t know if he showed up for his first—or any—immigration hearings, but in July 2023, police in Herndon, Virginia, arrested and charged him with felony rape, abduction, and assault on a family member.

ICE sent a detainer request to the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center, but the center ignored it and released him in August 2023 without alerting ICE. Despite Fairfax County’s refusal to assist them, ICE agents from Washington arrested the Honduran on Oct. 12, 2023, and served him with (another) court notice to attend deportation proceedings. We can only hope that ICE has him detained now, so he can’t assault anyone else.

In October 2023, ICE arrested an unnamed Peruvian illegal alien who was charged with several sex crimes against a minor. Border Patrol first encountered the man in March 2022, but, like millions of others, he was released into the country pending the usual delayed, dragged-out immigration court process to remove him. Then, in October 2022, the Peruvian was arrested in Fairfax, Virginia, for petit larceny, but his conviction was deferred by the court, and he was let go.

In July 2023, he was again arrested, on eight sex-crime charges against a victim younger than the age of 13. The day after his arrest, ICE lodged a detainer, but the Fairfax County detention center ignored it and released this predator into the community. Finally, after almost a month on the loose, the man was taken into custody by ICE in late October 2023.

Unlike Fairfax County, some liberal jurisdictions are finally waking up to public anger at the consequences of their sanctuary policies.

The Washington Times reported in late February that Montgomery County will now “add more crimes to the county’s list where it will cooperate” with ICE and will give ICE 48 hours’ notice ahead of releasing criminals to give the agency time to pick them up and hold them, pending deportation, if a judge orders it.

The list isn’t a complete one, and Montgomery County’s executive (similar to a mayor, in charge of the executive branch of the county government) thinks he shouldn’t have to inform ICE about arrests for charges he doesn’t consider serious. But he may not have the full picture of someone’s criminal record to judge the risk. Regardless, local police should inform ICE every time they cite and arrest—and especially before they release—any illegal alien.

As Manhattan Institute fellow and member of the Council on Criminal Justice Rafael Mangual wrote in his book “Criminal [In]Justice,” “Criminals don’t specialize. … Nearly 40 percent of violent felons were on probation, parole, or pretrial release when they committed their offense.”

Jose Ibarra, the man accused of murdering Georgia nursing student Laken Riley in February, was previously arrested in New York for riding with a child on a moped without helmets (or a license) but then released by notoriously lax New York City prosecutors. Later, he and his brother were caught shoplifting in Georgia but only given misdemeanor citations and steered toward a “woke” “pre-arrest diversion program”—which clearly didn’t divert him from wrongdoing. Mr. Ibarra committing another crime, even if not a horrific murder, was entirely predictable.

What it took for Montgomery County to grudgingly pare its “sanctuary” policy was the shooting and killing of a 2-year-old boy by an illegal alien that police had arrested—and then released—twice before without honoring ICE detainers. This one county is increasing collegial cooperation with federal authorities in the interests of public safety. How many more innocent victims will have to die before hardcore “sanctuary” cities such as New York, Chicago, and Portland come around?

Reprinted by permission from The Daily Signal, a publication of The Heritage Foundation.

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