Obama administration officials only began notifying local law enforcement officials of the release of violent criminal illegal immigrants within the last two weeks, according to Arizona law enforcement officials, who say they have for years been kept in the dark about the release of illegal immigrants back into local towns.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had been keeping secret its release of illegal immigrants with violent criminal records from local law enforcement for at least two years, denying for a time that this was taking place, law enforcement officials disclosed to the Washington Free Beacon.
The public disclosure of this practice, in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) frees criminal illegal immigrants back into U.S. communities, came to light earlier this week, when Arizona law enforcement was made aware that three illegal aliens with violent criminal records had been released back onto the streets.
Local law enforcement officials and members of Congress have expressed outrage over the practice and have petitioned DHS in recent days to end a policy they described as "catch and release."
At least three illegal aliens released by DHS in recent weeks have been charged with serious crimes, including the beating of a 7-week-old baby and immolation of a person, according to local law enforcement officials and Rep Matt Salmon (R., Ariz.).
Other Arizona law enforcement officials in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office further disclosed to the Free Beacon that they still are being kept in the dark about such releases and questioned whether DHS has implemented a standard nationwide practice to alert local officials.
"When I learned that there isn’t a requirement for DHS to inform local law enforcement agencies about the imminent release of illegal alien criminals, I was shocked," Salmon said. "In our post 9/11 world, where the constant sharing of information between agencies is commonplace, even sometimes at the expense of our rights, this is unacceptable. Simply put, if DHS insists on releasing dangerous illegal aliens into our neighborhoods the public and law enforcement need to know about it. I am now working to amend existing law to require that local agencies be notified by DHS before illegal aliens with violent criminal records are released.
"American citizens deserve to know who our federal government is forcing onto our streets and permitted to victimize our families, and I will not stop until we ensure that our local law enforcement agencies are given the tools they need to protect our communities."
The release of violent illegal immigrants has been taking place since at least 2013, when Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu was informed by senior ICE officials that illegal immigrants were being released back into his Arizona community, sources said.
Pinal County Police Department employees at the time "were called in on overtime on a Saturday and were ordered to start releasing illegals with violent criminal histories," according to one law enforcement source.
However, when Babeu asked ICE authorities for the names and criminal offenses committed by these individuals, he was told that no one had been freed.
"They all refused to provide any of the requested information and initially told our office and the media they didn’t release anybody," the source explained.
Reports of these releases led to congressional inquiries and the eventual disclosure by ICE that it had in fact released a few hundred illegal immigrants, though the agency claimed at the time that none of them had criminal records.
"As pressure mounted, ICE admitted they did release illegals with minor criminal offenses," the law enforcements source said. "Eventually, they confirmed they did release violent criminal illegals including those convicted of murder, aggravated assault, robbery, kidnapping, and sex crimes."
Following years of pressure, ICE two weeks ago began notifying Arizona law officials of the release of the three illegal immigrants mentioned above.
"We are not sure why they began to release criminals into the community without notifying local law-enforcement or why they just started to make notifications after two years," the law enforcement source said. "Communication with local law-enforcement is a common practice among the state corrections institutions where notifications are made to local police and sheriffs when a violent criminal is released."
"We think it reasonable to request the same courtesy when ICE releases criminals into our community rather than deport them to their home country," the source added.
Officials say they are "perplexed as to why it took so long" to institute the notification policy.
A nationwide alert system is still "in the test phase" and has not yet been implemented across the country, according to an ICE official who was not permitted to speak on record.
On Wednesday, the Free Beacon disclosed that Rep. Matt Salmon (R., Ariz.) had petitioned DHS to explain its policy and provide an explanation for why local law enforcement had been kept in the dark.
"Despite the repeated attacks on American citizens by illegal aliens released from our jails, DHS refuses to stop freeing violent criminals who are in our country illegally," Salmon wrote in his letter to DHS. "Just today, we learned of three more individuals set free on law-abiding Arizonans by the Department of Homeland Security. Their crimes included the beating to death of a seven-week-old baby and the stabbing, beating, and immolation of a police informant."
One of those released is accused of kidnapping and murdering a police informant "by taking him to a wilderness area where he beat, stabbed, and lit his gasoline-soaked body on fire," according to Salmon.
When questioned about the practice earlier this week, an ICE official explained that it can no longer legally detain these individuals and is forced under the law to release them.
"U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement under current law can no longer legally hold the three individuals," ICE press secretary Gillian Christensen told the Free Beacon. "To further promote public safety and transparency, ICE notified local law enforcement agencies of the release of the individuals."
UPDATE: Following publication of this report, an ICE spokesperson told the Free Beacon that it has launched a pilot program in certain communities to notify local law enforcement of the release of "certain convicted aliens."
"To promote and enhance public safety, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is conducting a pilot program in selected jurisdictions to notify local law enforcement in the event ICE is required to release certain convicted aliens," ICE Public Affairs Officer Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe said in a statement."The program, known as the Law Enforcement Notification System (LENS), electronically alerts state and local law enforcement agencies when certain individuals, who will be residing in their jurisdictions, are released from ICE custody."
"When the detainee is processed out of ICE custody, the system automatically generates a notification to law enforcement agencies based on the home address furnished by the alien at time of his or her release," O’Keefe said. "The notifications are being made in the interest of providing greater situational awareness and transparency."