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October 10, 2019Washington, DC, United StatesStatement

Acting ICE director's remarks on state and local cooperation and the Gonzalez decision

Good morning and thank you for making time to be with us today. My name is Matt Albence, I am the Deputy Director of ICE and the senior official performing the duties of the Director. I want to take a moment to recognize and thank the sheriffs joining me today:

  • Sheriff Robert Nolan from Cape May County, NJ
  • Sheriff Bill Waybourn from Tarrant County, TX
  • Sheriff Butch Conway from Gwinnett County, GA
  • Sheriff Mike Lewis from Wicomico County, MD
  • And Sheriff Chuck Jenkins from Fredrick County, MD

I’d also like to thank ICE Assistant Director Barbara Gonzalez from the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement Office for the work she does with these sheriffs to support their communities.

Two weeks ago, I was joined at this podium, as I am today, by sheriffs from around the country; valued partners who understand the importance of law enforcement at every level working together on behalf of all Americans.

We shared our ongoing frustration with jurisdictions that allow political rhetoric to get in the way of public safety, and the risks and dangers associated with bad laws and bad policies.

Since then, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s ability to enforce immigration law has again fallen victim to judicial overreach, and our agency’s authorities are being singled out and marginalized in ways that no other federal law enforcement organization has to tolerate. Tying our hands from the bench doesn’t make our country any safer.

Our commitment to justice is fundamental. The rule of law is a critical component of our democracy, but a recent ruling handed down by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California holds ICE to a different standard for lawful cooperation and will hinder our ability to faithfully carry out our Congressionally-mandated mission. This decision will threaten public safety as it will lead to the release of criminal aliens back onto the street – criminals that we won’t find before they hurt – or worse – more innocent victims – victims that could have been spared their pain and suffering, if only ICE had been allowed to do its job.

For decades, immigration officers have utilized detainers as a collaborative law enforcement tool to request that other law enforcement entities notify ICE of the upcoming release of an alien that has been arrested for a criminal violation completely unrelated to their immigration status. The detainer serves as a request to hold that person for a short period of time, enabling ICE to assume custody. ICE issues detainers based on a finding by a trained immigration officer that there is probable cause to believe an individual is a removable alien. Like all law enforcement agencies, ICE utilizes all evidence at its disposal to determine if probable cause exists, including various databases and electronic data. Probable cause is the same legal standard that other law enforcement agencies must meet in order to make an arrest.

The reality is we live in an electronic age where information is increasingly digitized, and evidence used to support a finding of probable cause will likely stem from databases – to include those that contain biometric data – and other similar data sources. Despite this reality, a judge in California has opined that immigration officers cannot develop probable cause to believe that an individual may be a removable alien based on certain database checks alone. This conclusion is out of step with the realities of modern law enforcement, endangers the public, and construes probable cause in an unfairly restrictive way. Moreover, this decision, issued by a single judge in Los Angeles, will impact at least 43 states, threatening communities far beyond the one in which this judge sits.

While I wish I could say this was an isolated occurrence, it is but the latest example of judicial overreach targeting immigration enforcement and the application of laws already passed by Congress, often decades ago. Time and again, DHS has been prevented from exercising the authority granted to it by Congress because of the decisions of unelected judges who substitute their judgment for that of our legislators or the government officials entrusted with enforcing our laws. We need people to understand that the laws we enforce were not written by ICE. We did not grant ourselves the power to enforce them. Our authorities come from the United States Congress; from the laws they draft, debate, pass, and send to the President for signature. Accordingly, these decisions are not just an attack on DHS and the Executive Branch, but an attack on the ability of Congress to carry out its most basic function of passing laws for the protection and general welfare of our country.

Our commitment is to strengthen national security and uphold public safety – which we accomplish by enforcing the law as it has been enacted, with the utmost professionalism, despite challenges faced by no other law enforcement agency in this Country. Mitigating some of the challenges faced by ICE through cooperation with all our state and local partners, in every jurisdiction nationwide, would make our public safety efforts more effective, and our entire country safer. To be clear, we ask only for the cooperation provided to other federal agencies within the law enforcement community – we ask no law enforcement agency to enforce immigration laws on our behalf, except those who have volunteered to obtain this authority under the 287(g) program, within which we have 79 valued, trusted partners.

Despite significant changes in immigration patterns – both legal and illegal – over the last 20 years, Congress has failed to modernize our laws accordingly. And unfortunately, as we have seen repeatedly in this context, Congress will only act – or even acknowledge there is a crisis – when it has no other choice. Congressional inaction in the face of a documented and growing public safety threat is not only an abdication of its duty, it is dangerous to all who reside in this country – citizen and immigrant alike.

As much as I would like to, I cannot stand here today and promise you that dangerous criminal aliens are not being let out of jails to potentially harm others. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, and court decisions that negate our lawful authorities only compound this risk. To be clear, the principal beneficiaries of the recent court decision limiting ICE’s ability to use its detainer authorities are the criminal aliens who have been arrested for criminal offenses by state and local jurisdictions. What I can promise you, however, is that ICE and our cooperative partners, will do everything in our power, consistent with the law, to prevent the release of dangerous criminal aliens into your communities, and when they are released by sanctuary jurisdictions, to take them off the street before they can re-offend.

But the threat to your communities remains. And it is real. ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations officers throughout the country, are out there every day, unnecessarily putting themselves in harm’s way searching for repeat and often violent offenders who were released from custody because local law enforcement is not permitted, or makes the conscious decision, not to cooperate with ICE, and a lawfully placed detainer request and warrant were ignored.

A recent case, in litany of tragic examples, clearly illustrates this danger. Carlos CARILLO-Lopez entered the country illegally as an Unaccompanied Alien Child in 2015. He was arrested no less than four times this year in the state of Washington, for charges including Criminal Trespass, Theft, Malicious Mischief, and Failure to Appear. Each time, ICE lodged a detainer, and each time, the detaining entities – proud Sanctuary Jurisdictions – released him without notifying ICE. Tragically, on September 30, 2019, he was arrested for Homicide, his victim another young man.

ICE has made approximately 140-thousand arrests this year. About 75-percent of those arrests came from ICE working with the jails and prisons. The other 25-percent are arrests made by ICE’s at-large criminal alien teams. It is critically important work, but it takes a lot more time and resources to make those arrests – at a much greater risk to our officers, the public, and the subjects themselves – when we could apprehend those criminal aliens from the safe confines of a jail upon their release. Moreover, ICE’s ability to conduct this at-large enforcement has been increasingly crippled by Congress’ failure to provide sufficient funding for additional detention beds, transportation funding, and ICE officers and agents.

Unfortunately, ICE is seeing its efforts to protect this country undermined by more than just certain courts. Just last week, the New Jersey Attorney General took another step to undercut how individual sheriffs are working directly with ICE.

We have two partners in our 287(g) program in New Jersey – where we have designated and trained local jail officers who work under ICE supervision to identify those criminal aliens in their custody.

These partnerships are vital to our success. They give ICE the operational flexibility to use resources that would otherwise have to be assigned to the jail, and to be redeployed to target dangerous, at-large criminal aliens instead, many from neighboring jurisdictions who fail to provide such cooperation.

These sheriffs, in Monmouth and Cape May Counties – elected by their constituents to perform their duties in a manner that reflected their desires – had established a great working relationship with ICE. But the State Attorney General thinks he knows what’s better for those communities than the people within them. How does the Attorney General – the chief law enforcement officer of the state – tell law enforcement officers under his command to ignore the law. Perhaps he made a few of his friends in the statehouse and the Governor’s office happy, but he surely did nothing but put the citizens of New Jersey at greater risk.

The oath of office taken by the men and women of ICE means something to us. Which is why we will adapt, like we always do. Why we will persevere, like we always do. Why we will continue to put our lives on the line to protect the American public, despite the best efforts of those who would like to see no enforcement, or open borders. But make no mistake, rulings from any individual federal court sitting in a single judicial district but purporting to cripple ICE authorities on a nationwide basis puts people at risk – innocent victims whose lives will be forever changed for the worse all across our great Country. And we could’ve stopped it.

There are more than 3,000 sheriffs in this country – and the vast majority of them see the benefit in working with ICE, honoring our requests to hold someone, or even something as simple as notifying us before criminal aliens are released. We have done this for decades, because it is good policy and it is even better public safety.

Thank you again for joining us. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.

Updated: 03/10/2023