ICE’s sex offender policies under scrutiny
Globe investigation finds many violent sex offenders released but not closely tracked or forced to register
For years, doctors warned federal immigration officials: Do not take your eyes off Santos Hernandez Carrera.
He had raped a woman at knifepoint and spent roughly half his life in jail, where immigration officials hoped to keep him until they could send him home to Cuba. As far as the public knew, the strategy worked: Until last month, the public sex offender registry said Hernandez Carrera, who has been diagnosed with a mental illness, had been deported.
He never was. Instead, the Globe discovered that Hernandez Carrera is in Florida, one of hundreds of immigrants convicted of sex crimes who should have been deported but instead were released in the United States because their homelands refused to take them back.
They are convicted rapists, child molesters, and kidnappers — among “the worst of the worst,” as one law enforcement agency put it. Yet the Globe found that immigration officials have released them without making sure they register with local authorities as sex offenders.
And once US Immigration and Customs Enforcement frees them, agency officials often lose track of the criminals, despite outstanding deportation orders against them. The Globe determined that Hernandez Carrera and several other offenders had failed to register as sex offenders, a crime. By law, police are supposed to investigate if such offenders fail to update their address within days of their release. But local officials said they did not learn that ICE had released the offenders until after the Globe inquired about their cases.
“It’s chilling,” said Thomas H. Dupree Jr., a former deputy assistant US attorney general who led a 2008 federal court battle to keep Hernandez Carrera locked up. “These are dangerous and predatory individuals who should not be prowling the streets. In fact, they should not be in the United States at all.”
These released criminals are immigrants who were convicted of sex-related crimes and ordered deported, sometimes after serving a state or federal prison term. But if their home country will not take them back, ICE says they must release them after six months because the Supreme Court in 2001 barred the agency from holding immigrants indefinitely. Officials said they can detain such immigrants longer only in rare cases, such as when a detainee is ruled mentally ill and dangerous.
Though the federal judge sided with the Globe, ICE has provided complete records only for the criminals freed from 2008 to 2012, the year the Globe filed the lawsuit. The Globe has demanded a more current list, but ICE has not supplied it.
Using the 2008 to 2012 list with names of more than 6,800 criminals, the Globe identified 424 released immigrants who had previously been convicted of sex-related crimes, including 209 who had appeared in the national public sex offender registry. Of the 209, 53 failed to re-register after ICE released them — including four from New England.
The Globe could not determine from the information ICE provided whether the remaining 215 criminals convicted of sex-related crimes were legally required to register upon their release. Federal law sets minimum standards, but sex offender registration requirements still vary by state. In Massachusetts, for example, the law requires a sex offender moving here from another state to register within two days.
At least 34 of the 424 released sex offenders — including some who did register with local police — were back in jail as of last month, state records show, some for heinous crimes committed after ICE released them.
Immigration officials tried to deport Luis-Leyva Vargas, 47, to Cuba after he served three years in a Florida prison for unlawful sex with a teen. In 2008, officials released him. Two years later, he kidnapped an 18-year-old in Rockingham County, Va., at knifepoint and raped her. Now he is serving a 55-year prison sentence.
Felix Rodriguez, a 67-year-old sex offender convicted of raping children as young as 4 in the 1990s, was freed in 2009, also because Cuba would not take him back. Months later, he fatally shot his girlfriend in Kansas City. He pleaded guilty and is serving 10 years in a Missouri prison.
Andrew Rui Stanley, convicted in 2000 of multiple counts of sodomizing a child when Stanley was 14, was released in 2009 after Brazil failed to provide a passport needed to send him home. For the next two years, he viciously abused three children in St. Louis and now, at age 31, will be in prison for the rest of his life.
The goal of registering sex offenders is to inform the police, and if required, the public, largely through online sex offender registries, that an offender is living in the community.
ICE told the Globe in April that federal law historically has not authorized the agency to require someone to register as a sex offender when they are released from agency custody. But ICE said it had been working on a new policy, for a year and a half, to notify states when they identify a sex offender among those to be released.
Then in May, after the Globe identified more unregistered sex offenders released across the United States, ICE signed up for a Department of Justice system that lets them send electronic alerts to law enforcement and state agencies when they release a sex offender.
Since the Globe began making inquiries, ICE has also pledged to warn sex offenders that they must register with local law enforcement after their release, and ICE will demand written proof of that registration within 10 days. Officials will also require that immigrant sexual offenders register in a sexual deviancy counseling program, if their state requires it.
ICE spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea said immigration agents have notified law enforcement of sex offenders’ release “in many cases” in the past, even though they were not required to. But she said the new policy “will serve to enhance public safety by notifying the appropriate authorities in each instance of the release of a sex offender and notifying the offender of their requirement to register.”
The Department of Justice hailed immigration officials’ decision to join the system in May.
“They’re starting to make notifications,” said Dawn Doran, deputy director of the department’s Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking, which runs the system. “This is a step in the right direction.”
The Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan research agency for Congress, has urged ICE since August 2013 to do a better job notifying local law enforcement of released sex offenders.
“Even if you don’t have a legal responsibility, sometimes there are things that are just the right thing to do,” David Maurer, director of the GAO’s Homeland Security and Justice team, said in a telephone interview with the Globe.
ICE practices varied
Until the recent changes, ICE’s sex-offender notification process varied widely across the United States. Sometimes ICE officials informed local officials when they released or deported a sex offender. Sometimes they didn’t.
Anyone searching New York State’s public sex offender registry for Hagie Kamara, 44, who raped a 12-year-old girl in 2001, might have been relieved to find out that he was still incarcerated. Same for Alberto Fernandez, 64, who served time for brandishing a knife at a 15-year-old boy in 1984 and raping him.
The Globe found those sex offender entries were wrong. Immigration released both men six years ago and they never showed up at their local police agency to register their new address. New York officials said immigration never notified them that the men had been released.
The same happened in Indiana, where the state’s sex offender registry said Domingo Rebollar, convicted of child molesting in 2007, was still in prison. But according to the federal records, ICE released him in 2011 when he could not be deported.
The Globe discovered similar cases in Texas and Georgia. In Texas, officials said Friday that ICE did not notify them of an immigrant’s release, and they planned to investigate. Georgia sex-offender registry officials did not respond to requests for comment.
In response to the Globe’s inquiry about Fernandez and Kamara, New York immediately alerted the US Marshals and the police so that they could try to find them, according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services in Albany, which runs the state’s sex offender registry.
In Indiana, state officials said they alerted Illinois, where they said Rebollar is believed to live now. Illinois’s sex offender registry has since declared him “noncompliant” and State Police said he could be arrested if found.
Losing track of sex offenders
Once ICE releases criminals they cannot deport, immigration officials say they track them in different ways, in hopes that they can deport them in the future. The intensive monitoring system has cost more than $370 million since 2009 and can include affixing GPS ankle bracelets to immigrants and making unannounced visits to their homes. Released criminals are supposed to be one of the system’s top priorities, according to a Homeland Security Inspector General report released in February.
But the Globe found that ICE’s monitoring of sex offenders is haphazard in ways that sometimes defy comprehension.
In Massachusetts, for instance, ICE forced a New Bedford seamstress, a mother of four and an immigrant from Honduras, to wear a GPS tracking device for more than a year even though she had no criminal record.
But convicted sex offenders are not always tracked so closely, and many have managed to disappear, among them Phuong Huynh, a 53-year-old immigrant from Vietnam who pleaded guilty in 2006 to raping a Randolph woman and has been missing for six years, according to state and court records.
ICE said Vietnam refused to provide travel documents, so immigration officials had to release him.
But Dupree, the former deputy assistant US Attorney General, said the immigration agency should deport criminals or at least monitor the dangerous criminals intensively.
“We’ve heard so much in the immigration debate about setting priorities,” Dupree said. “If these people are not a priority, my God, who is?”
Immigration has even lost track of immigrants they insisted were too dangerous to set free.
In March 2008, a federal judge ordered ICE to release two Cuban nationals they had jailed for many years, Pablo Hernandez, a diagnosed pedophile, and Santos Hernandez Carrera, the convicted rapist whose sex offender page in California still wrongly says he was deported.
Multiple psychological examinations while they were in ICE custody had determined they were too dangerous to be released, according to federal court records. Hernandez Carrera was a diagnosed schizophrenic.
As soon as the court decision was issued, ICE released Hernandez Carrera, after holding him for 15 years in different jails across the United States. Immigration had taken him into custody after he served state time for breaking into a woman’s home in California in 1988 and raping her, but when they released him it was thousands of miles away, in Florida. ICE alerted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that he had been released, but a state spokeswoman said ICE did not provide his intended address.
Hernandez Carrera promptly dropped out of sight, according to state officials and federal records. It was even unclear which law enforcement agency should search for him.
Hernandez Carrera drifted around Florida for about 18 months, according to federal and state court records and police reports. He was soon arrested for trespassing and punching and biting a hotel security guard, but police never charged him with failing to register as a sex offender. It is unclear whether they knew he was one.
He also stayed at two homeless shelters that bar sex offenders, according to police and court records, horrifying one shelter official after he was informed by the Globe. Shelter officials generally search the sex offender registry before admitting homeless residents.
“The public ought to be outraged,” said Ronald Book, chairman of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, which owns one shelter where Hernandez Carrera stayed. Book knows the grave consequences of sex abuse; he also chairs Lauren’s Kids, a nonprofit named for his daughter, who was abused by her former nanny, a woman who also faces deportation once her sentence for that crime is up.
“I don’t know that ICE intentionally set us up,” Book said, “but it left us vulnerable, which is what we want to try to avoid.”
ICE did not immediately release the second Cuban affected by the court decision, Pablo Hernandez, because of fears that the convicted child molester would reoffend. In 1984, according to court records, he had pleaded guilty to grabbing a 7-year-old boy on his way home from a store in New Jersey, fondling him and digitally penetrating him.
Hernandez claimed to have made “several hundred” contacts with children and defended sex with children, according to court records. He had been in immigration custody for more than 20 years at the time of the initial court decision.
He was still there eight months later, when — in the latest of several byzantine twists — an appeals court overturned the judge’s ruling in and said ICE had the authority to detain both men. Immigration officials canceled any plans to release Hernandez and arrested Hernandez Carrera a year after the appeals court decision, after finding him at another homeless shelter.
That would have seemed to seal their fate, but immigration officials later let them go again. ICE said they could not discuss their individual mental health evaluations, citing privacy reasons, but said such detainees are evaluated yearly. If a psychiatrist says they can be released, ICE says it cannot legally continue to detain them.
In October 2010, immigration officials freed Hernandez to a halfway house in Los Angeles on a GPS tracking device, according to the list obtained by the Globe and court records. At first, he registered as a sex offender, then disappeared. Immigration officials did not say why, but the Inspector General report said ICE removed Cuban criminals from their intensive monitoring system that year.
He re-registered in 2012 and 2013, according to the Los Angeles police, but vanished again last year.
Elzea, the ICE spokeswoman, said Hernandez was required to check in periodically in person — and did until August 2014.
“At this time,” she said in a statement June 5, “the subject has absconded and his whereabouts are unknown to ICE.”
But it’s not as though he could not be found.
Following up on inquiries by the Globe, Los Angeles and San Diego police detectives tracked down Pablo Hernandez, now 59. San Diego police arrested him May 22 for failing to register as a sex offender.
Santos Hernandez Carrera was not released again until Jan. 25. The Globe discovered that he was free by searching for him in ICE’s online detainee locator.
In response to the Globe’s questions, immigration officials said “ICE has notified Miami-Dade officials regarding the subject’s release and whereabouts in the past.”
But not this last time, state and Miami-Dade officials told the Globe.
After the Globe asked ICE about his case, the local immigration detention center called the Miami-Dade Police Department to let them know that he was out, police said. The police quickly found him and registered him for the first time in Florida.
“We just found out about it on April 30,” said Lieutenant James Tietz, head of the Miami-Dade police’s sexual predator and offender unit.
“He’s never registered here in Florida,” Tietz said. “Maybe your call to ICE is what prompted them to give us a call.”
Melissa Harrison, the lawyer appointed to represent Santos Hernandez Carrera and Pablo Hernandez in federal court, said it was inhumane and illegal for ICE to jail the men for so many years after they had finished their criminal sentences.
But she said she never disputed that both men needed 24-hour supervision.
“I certainly don’t disagree that [they] should have been watched,” she said in a telephone interview from Tennessee, where she now lives. She said her impression from handling the case was that “a lot of things fell through the cracks in the ICE system.”
“It was like a black hole,” she said.
Should ICE do more?
Some say the Obama administration should do more to force other countries to take back their criminals, such as denying visas to their citizens if they wish to travel to the United States.
Otherwise, they say, ICE will continue to have to release dangerous detainees such as Andrew Rui Stanley. His case illustrates just how dangerous it can be when ICE is compelled to release sex offenders back into the general public, even when registration rules are followed .
Stanley arrived at age 14 from Brazil to be adopted, police said, but in 2000, court records show, he was convicted of multiple counts of sodomy against a child in his new family in Missouri.
Immigration officials say they tried to deport him twice, but when that failed, they said they had to release him in 2009 because of the Supreme Court decision. He wore a GPS device, checked in with ICE monthly, and registered as a sex offender.
But that year, court records show, Stanley and his wife began to torture three small children in their home in St. Louis.
He whipped his two stepdaughters with thin electrical wires, battered them with sticks and bats, water-boarded them, and raped the oldest, according to court records.
He forced the girls, 6 and 8 when it started, into the shower and then turned the water freezing cold or scalding hot. He also physically abused his toddler son.
The abuse lasted until late 2011, when a school staff member noticed the oldest girl was in pain and called the police.
In court records, prosecutors called the crimes “cruel, inhuman, grotesque, disgusting, unimaginable and unspeakable.” They said Stanley’s son and stepdaughters were “deeply damaged,” probably for life.
“Had he been deported, then the crime that occurred in 2011 would not have happened,” St. Louis police Chief Sam Dotson said. “The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and the Boston Police Department cannot deport people. That’s ICE’s responsibility and ICE’s job.”
Stanley is unlikely to be deported now. He is serving 160 years in prison.
Brazilian consular officials told the Globe in an e-mail Friday that they refused to repatriate Stanley because he was brought to the United States for adoption. Therefore, they said, Brazil’s position is that he should have the “same rights as a biological child.” A US immigration judge disagreed and ordered him deported in 2004.
“The Brazilian Government considers the deportation of individuals who underwent the adoption process as minors to be a clear violation of human rights,” the consulate said in the e-mail. “Therefore, Brazilian Consulates have been instructed not to provide travel documents for the deportation of Brazilian nationals under these circumstances, unless the individual in question demonstrates a clear and unequivocal will to return to Brazil.”
But the role of ICE in such cases is rarely scrutinized in part because the agency — until the Globe’s lawsuit — had refused to disclose the identities of the immigrants it releases.
For instance, the US Marshals issued a press release in 2013 touting their arrest of Michael Rybkin, a convicted sex offender from Germany, for a parole violation and a warrant from ICE.
Officials said they caught him after he returned to the New York City Public Library in 2010, which had previously banned him, and allegedly masturbated in front of two little girls.
On the surface, catching Rybkin seemed like a great success. With more than 14 convictions for similar offenses since the 1960s, the press release said, he was among the “worst of the worst.”
Those are exactly the words the new ICE director, Sarah Saldaña, a former chief federal prosecutor, recently used to describe ICE’s top priorities for deportation.
But the Globe’s lawsuit revealed what the press release did not say: ICE had Rybkin in custody in 2008 — two years before the library incident — and then they let him go.