Qian Wu thought the man who brutally attacked her was gone forever.
She was sure that Huang Chen, a Chinese citizen who slipped into America on a ship and stayed in the country illegally, would be deported as soon as he got out of jail for choking, punching, and pointing a knife at her in 2006.
But China refused to take Chen back. So, after jailing Chen on and off for three years in Texas, immigration officials believed they were out of options and did what they have done with thousands of criminals like him.
They quietly let him go.
Nobody warned Wu, or prosecutors, or the public. The petite, 46-year-old woman learned Chen was still here when he stormed into her unlocked apartment one day in January 2010 and announced, “I bet you didn’t expect to see me.” Terrified, she called the police, and he fled. But for two weeks, Chen was free to stalk her and finally, to catch her as she hurried home with milk and bread one afternoon.
Chen then finished what he had started earlier, bashing Wu on the head with a hammer and slashing her with a knife. As she lay crumpled in a grimy stairwell, he ripped out her heart and a lung and fled with his macabre trophies.
Wu is just one casualty of an immigration system cloaked in a blanket of secrecy that the Founding Fathers could not have imagined, a blanket that isn’t lifted even when life is at risk. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and its sister agencies have emerged as the largest law enforcement network in the United States since the Sept. 11 terror attacks, and they are increasingly dealing with criminals, but they play by very different rules than the local police, prosecutors, or even the FBI.
A yearlong Globe investigation found the culture of secrecy can be deadly to Americans and foreigners alike: Immigration officials do not notify most crime victims when they release a criminal such as Chen, and they only notify local law enforcement on a case by case basis. And even though immigration officials have the power to try to hold dangerous people longer, that rarely occurs.
The Globe also found that the pattern of secrecy extends to the treatment of immigrants who end up behind bars, though they have no criminal records. Foreigners in immigration detention have fewer rights than ordinary criminal suspects and limited ability to get word to the outside world about their plight. Even their names are kept secret, purportedly for their own protection, and many never get a public hearing to make their case.
It is also a system in which—as Wu would learn in her final days of terror—Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, routinely releases dangerous detainees to the streets of America without warning the public. Over the past four years, immigration officials have largely without notice freed more than 8,500 detainees convicted of murder, rape, and other crimes, according to ICE’s own statistics, mainly because their home countries would not take them back.
Deporting illegal immigrants requires more than simply putting them on an airplane to their own country. People being deported need travel papers—such as a passport—like anyone else who travels abroad. If their native country refuses to issue the necessary papers, the United States cannot send deportees there. And the Supreme Court has said ICE cannot hold the immigrants forever; if immigration officials cannot deport them after six months, the court said, they should generally set the immigrants free.
But a disturbing number of foreigners have been arrested after their release, including some for heinous crimes. Abel Arango, an armed robber who was released when his native Cuba wouldn’t take him back, shot and killed a Fort Myers, Fla., police officer who responded to a report of a loud fight between Arango and his girlfriend in 2008. Binh Thai Luc, an armed robber from Vietnam, couldn’t be deported either, so he was released. In March, he allegedly massacred five people in a San Francisco home.
McCarthy Larngar, a Liberian national who served several years in prison for shooting and wounding a man in Rhode Island, was released in 2007 when Liberia would not take him back—even though a Boston immigration official had described him in court records as “a danger to the community.” After multiple brushes with the law, Larngar was arrested last year and charged with tying up and robbing a man and a woman in a bizarre kidnapping in Pawtucket. His lawyer said in court documents that he is not guilty, and he is now in a Rhode Island jail on a violation from an earlier crime.
In New England, immigration officials have released as many as 10 convicted murderers since 2008.
They include Hung Truong, a robber who repeatedly stabbed a bound and gagged 15-year-old Everett girl during a 1989 kidnapping that left the girl and her mother dead. Massachusetts released Truong on parole about 20 years into his life prison sentence in hopes that he would be deported to his native Vietnam in 2010. But ICE could not deport him because Vietnam has refused to accept deportees who came to the United States before 1995. Now, he’s back in prison after failing a drug test that was part of his release deal with the state Parole Board.
More than 20 governments from Jamaica to China routinely block deportation of their citizens, even dodging calls from US immigration officers seeking to expedite the process, and critics say they suffer few consequences. Some, such as US Representative Ted Poe, a Texas Republican, argue that the United States should stop accepting diplomats from countries who do not repatriate their citizens, but the State Department has shown little interest, preferring to work through diplomatic channels to deport immigrants. Federal officials have refused to issue visas to only one nation, tiny Guyana in South America.
Even when foreigners cannot be deported, immigration officials, under a 2001 Supreme Court ruling, could seek to hold them longer on the grounds that they are a danger to the public. Immigration officials say the legal standard for holding an immigrant longer for that reason is very high, limiting their ability to use it. They point out that immigrants are detained for civil immigration violations and not crimes.
But the Globe found that immigration officials almost never try to declare a detainee dangerous: In the past four years, immigration officials have released thousands of criminals, but court officials say they have handled only 13 cases seeking to hold immigrants longer because they are dangerous.
[Editor’s Note: The full article, available at the original article link below, is quite long, but well worth reading.]