WASHINGTON (AP) — Immigration authorities will now get priority over inmates wanted for deportation who are released from federal prison instead of local law enforcement agencies, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said on Wednesday.
The federal Bureau of Prisons will first give Immigration and Customs Enforcement the option to take inmates facing deportation into custody. Local law enforcement agencies seeking to prosecute those inmates on other crimes will need to ensure they will return them to immigration authorities once their criminal cases have ended, she said.
"This may have the effect that there may be local cases that may not be able to be prosecuted because, again, the person will be taken into ICE custody and then deported," Lynch told a House Appropriations subcommittee. "And if a jurisdiction has a concern over that, we will talk to them, but we would have to have assurances that ICE would also then be able to get the individual back."
Her comments come less than a year after a 32-year-old woman was shot to death on a San Francisco pier allegedly by a man who was transferred from federal prison to San Francisco authorities and released instead of being deported for a sixth time.
The death of Kate Steinle in July sparked a national debate over immigration after it was revealed that the San Francisco sheriff's department had taken Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez into custody and then released him despite a request by immigration officials to detain him for deportation.
Rep. John Culberson, a Texas Republican, said the change along with increased pressure on cities and counties to cooperate with ICE to access federal grant funding is critical. "Had that policy been in effect last summer Kate Steinle would still be alive," said Culberson, who chairs the subcommittee.
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, which wants tougher enforcement of immigration laws, welcomed the change but said the challenge is ensuring that suspects don't evade prosecution because they're being deported. Local prosecutors will need to start speaking up when they want someone turned over, Vaughan said.
Jessica Bansal, litigation director for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said she didn't think the shift would affect too many cases but would require better communication between those working in the immigration and criminal justice systems.
ICE had no immediate comment on the change.