Police officials statewide are decrying revolving-door treatment of illegal immigrants they are forced to release when overwhelmed federal authorities fail to take action, a Herald review found.
Even in cases when cops verify a person is illegal, police chiefs say their officers often can do nothing because federal immigration agents with the power to detain them are seldom available to respond.
“It’s out of control,” Wakefield Police Chief Rick Smith said. “A lot of them (illegal immigrants) are running around gainfully employed and it’s tough to get a handle on it. We have to operate within the rules.”
The nation’s rules on immigration enforcement discourage local police from becoming involved because authority is almost exclusively vested in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency empowered to detain illegals and initiate deportation proceedings.
During the past few years, high demand on the agency has forced it to focus most of its resources on smuggling rings, employers who hire illegals on a massive scale and other felony cases.
Davis and other officials said they do not blame ICE for having to prioritize their cases and many praised the agency’s national Law Enforcement Support Center, a Vermont-based office that responds to queries from local police and runs criminal history checks on suspected illegals. In each of the past two years, ICE has processed more than 10,000 electronic queries from Massachusetts police departments alone, according to agency statistics.
However, out of the large volumes of queries, only 254 in the past 18 months have caused ICE to lodge detainers that allow Massachusetts authorities to hold illegal aliens for further enforcement action. ICE officials say such comparisons are invalid because of the vast array of possible results to each individual query.