ICE: None of the immigrants recently released in Arizona are MS-13

Oct 16, 2018, 4:55 AM

Editor’s note: KTAR News’ Martha Maurer recently sat down with Henry Lucero, Phoenix field office director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The topic: understanding why hundreds of immigrants were released from ICE custody last week and dropped off at churches across Arizona.

PHOENIX — Despite the release of hundreds of immigrant families from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement custody in recent weeks, Phoenix field office director Henry Lucero assured KTAR News 92.3 FM that, to his knowledge, not a single gang member has been released into the community.

“We have very good training to recognize gang members,” Lucero said. He added ICE has a good relationship with governments in other countries to be able to cross check immigrants who may be wanted.

During his State of the Union address in January, President Donald Trump called on Congress to close what he called the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13 and other criminals to break into the U.S.

On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions created a new task force aimed at zeroing in on the three of the world’s most notorious drug cartels and the brutal MS-13 street gang, already considered a top priority for federal law enforcement.

Lucero would not go into the tactics his agents use to spot gang members in immigrants who show up at the border seeking asylum, or who cross the border illegally.

“We’re not aware that we’ve released even one MS-13 member or any gang member for that matter,” Lucero added.

Before any immigrant is released from ICE custody and into the community, Lucero said they are thoroughly checked to make sure they don’t have a criminal past.

“You’re being fingerprinted, you’re going through all the FBI, DHS databases to determine if you’ve been arrested before,” Lucero said. He said agents look to see if any immigrant has been convicted of a crime or wanted by other countries.

This vetting process is the same for any family or single adults who arrive at the U.S.- Mexico border, he added.

Lucero admits there is no way of knowing if an immigrant who does not have a known criminal record could be released into the community and later pose a threat.

“We don’t have a crystal ball. When we’re at capacity issues, we don’t release known threats to society,” he said.

Nearly all of the immigrants who were released last week were outfitted with ankle monitors and were given notices to check in with at an ICE office within 7-10 days of when they arrive at their final destination.

“Over 95 percent of people are not staying in the state of Arizona. Most of them are going east of Arizona, generally to the East Coast,” Lucero said.

If the immigrants do not check in or if they cut off their ankle monitors, they become fugitives and are subject to arrest and prosecution for destruction of government property and hindering their removal efforts.

If immigrants do skip out on their court hearings or cut off their monitors, it’s up to the ICE office in the state where it happened to look for the fugitives.

Most of the family units recently released by ICE are from Central America.

After families seeking asylum come across a border patrol agent after crossing or show up at a port of entry, they are interviewed by a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer to determine the credibility of their claim.

“About 80 to 90 percent of asylum officers grant that they have a positive finding, which takes them to the next level, to an immigration judge,” Lucero said.

Immigration judges ultimately decide whether an asylum case can go forward. If they decide the merits are not there, the immigrant is deported.

Only 2 percent of family units seeking asylum who are released from ICE custody are ever repatriated, according to Lucero.

“That means 98 percent are going through proceedings or we are ultimately looking for them right now,” Lucero said.

That staggering statistic is a reason why the Arizona border with Mexico is seeing a large draw of family units from Central America, Lucero explained.

A large number of them detained end up being released from custody after around two weeks.

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ICE: None of the immigrants recently released in Arizona are MS-13