One of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) immigration agencies announced they would be enacting "enhanced" oversight and release procedures for custody determinations for immigrant detainees with criminal convictions.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency disclosed new policies and procedures for the "potential release of individuals with a criminal conviction." According to ICE Director Sarah Saldaña, the policy changes comes after DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson directed ICE officials to reassess its decision-making policies of the detainment of undocumented immigrants.

"Like Secretary Johnson, I am determined to do what we can to improve and reform our immigration system within the confines of existing law," said Saldaña. "Today's announcement is an example of this, and I believe it will enhance public safety and public confidence in our enforcement and administration of the immigration laws."

ICE revealed five policy reforms. The first "enhanced" policy is the need for supervisory approval for a detainees' release with a criminal conviction, specifically if the individual has two or more felonies or one aggravated felony. The supervisory approval has to be done by an approved assistant field office director, deputy field office director or field office director.

Second, ICE will not release a detainee with a "serious" criminal record despite capacity limitations in a detention center. The agency stated, "ICE manages a nationwide detention system and will manage capacity to ensure that field offices have access to sufficient adult detention space to detain public safety threats until removal, including re-prioritizing resources, if necessary, to ensure the promotion of public safety."

Third, ICE created a panel comprising of "senior managers" to review discretionary release decisions for individuals convicted of crimes of violence. The ICE panel will meet monthly and report regularly to ICE's leadership.

ICE's fourth policy change is to enhance the supervision of a number of released individuals through in-person or telephonic reporting.

The final policy change is for ICE to develop a program to provide accurate information to state law enforcement about the release of an individual with criminal convictions.

According to ICE, the agency "booked-out" 30,558 detainees with criminal convictions," Saldaña noted, "While this number is down considerably from the 36,007 with criminal convictions released in Fiscal Year 2013, the number - which includes some with felony convictions -- still concerns me Under Secretary Johnson's leadership, we have made important reforms and I am determined to continue to take every possible measure to ensure the public's safety and the removal of dangerous criminals ."

Saldaña's announcement was not well-received with some immigrant rights' organizations. The Detention Watch Network (DWN) said the ICE director's new policies were likely politically-based.

"This announcement is not the result of reasoned policy analysis," said DWN Co-Director Silky Shah. "Rather it was released the night before new ICE Director Sarah Saldaña was to testify before Congress and represents a preemptive surrender to its most zealously anti-immigrant members. Decisions on immigration policy and the detention of immigrants should never be based on crude political calculations."

Shah added, "The list of people with no hope of release in U.S. detention centers is growing at an alarming rate: immigrant families, asylum-seekers, and now individuals with prior criminal convictions. Detention, with no alternatives or way out, for such a huge number of people who pose no safety risk to their communities is an outrageous violation of human rights and an enormous waste of taxpayer dollars."

Saldaña issued a new statement following her testimony with the House of Representatives' Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to clarify statements made during the hearing and in the statement about the five new procedural policies. She reiterated her support of the new Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), which replaced the Secure Communities program, as directed by Johnson.

"The new program, PEP, is a common-sense approach to immigration enforcement and public safety, that closely and clearly reflects DHS' new enforcement priorities, and Secretary Johnson and I have now embarked upon an aggressive plan to engage state, county and local officials to seek their cooperation with PEP. It is critical that PEP be implemented in a way that also supports community policing and sustains the trust of all elements of the community in working with law enforcement," said Saldaña in a statement released on Friday

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said he was glad Saldaña clarified remarks about ICE's new procedures. Noorani called for the Obama administration to implement policies that will help local law enforcement establish trust and keep everyone safe.

"As local law enforcement leaders have pointed out, mandatory immigration detainers would be counterproductive. In addition to risking the trust of their communities, such a mandate would only add to our detention system's high costs," added Noorani. "We need Congress to talk about the economic contributions of immigrants and how to seize the economic potential of immigration reform. We do not need political posturing around detention and deportation ideas that would squander that potential. The House's enforcement-only approach is costly to communities and to our economy, as the American Action Forum also recently showed."

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