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Over half of immigrants in detention have no criminal convictions

Most people in Lancaster County know that when someone is arrested and convicted of a crime, they can be sentenced to jail or prison. If the offender is not a citizen, however, he or she may face deportation, even if he or she was not sentenced to prison. In fact, an immigrant can be stopped for speeding or driving while intoxicated and, if U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement decides to pursue the matter, the immigrant could be faced with removal proceedings. While it is debatable as to whether that is appropriate, it is not just immigrants who have been convicted of crimes that are detained and awaiting deportation.

Over half of the immigrants in the United States who are currently detained by ICE do not have a criminal conviction. In 2009, a Freedom of Information Act request was filed for the ICE database. That request found roughly 32,000 immigrants in detention and more than 18,000 had no criminal convictions. They were being held, however, while their immigration statuses were being adjudicated.

What is particularly shocking is that many of the people detained had been held for quite a while. Ten thousand immigrants had been in detention for more than one month, 400 for more than one year, a dozen for three and one man for five years. All this time spent in detention just so that the government could decide if it would deport or release them.

The immigrant detention system in our country has some serious problems and nonprofit groups are working hard to reform it. For the individual immigrants locked up, however, their best bet to get out of detention is likely to work with an immigration attorney.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Judge's Timing For Immigrant Detention Data Request Is 'Not Feasible,' Prosecutors Say," Larry Neumeister, Dec. 25, 2013

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