Two members of Congress are calling for legislation that would compel Immigration and Customs Enforcement to help register sex offenders, after the Globe detailed that the agency was releasing hundreds of rapists, child molesters, and others without consistently notifying law enforcement the offenders were living in communities across the United States.
Immigration officials say they already are making the notifications, one of several policy changes following the discovery that the agency was releasing sex offenders without making sure they registered with law enforcement. ICE says it had to release the offenders, and thousands of other criminals, because their homelands refused to take them back.
But Representative Bill Keating, a Bourne Democrat and member of the House committees on Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs, called ICE’s lapses “frightening.” In a telephone interview, he said the agency’s policy change is insufficient and said he would seek to have the notifications mandated by law.
“There’s still gaping holes,” Keating said in response to the Globe’s article. “You need more than just policies. Policies come and go.”
Also in response to the article, US Representative Jody Hice filed legislation Tuesday to require Homeland Security to ensure that criminals in their custody register as sex offenders. Hice, a Republican from Georgia, said the bill also stemmed from concerns raised at recent oversight hearings about ICE’s failure to notify law enforcement when they release criminals.
“The fundamental responsibility of our government is to protect our citizens, especially those who are most vulnerable,” Hice said in a statement, adding: “If a convicted criminal is released into society after committing a sex crime, I cannot personally sleep without knowing that all measures are being taken to ensure that our neighbors are notified of the danger this criminal poses.”
Federal law calls for prisons and jails to notify state and local law officials before releasing sex offenders so that police and, if required, the public, know they are living in the community, according to the Government Accountability Office, a congressional watchdog.
Federal law also calls for prisons and jails to inform sex offenders that they must register their addresses and other information with local police once they are out; failing to register is a crime, though penalties vary by state.
Federal law does not make the same requirements of ICE, which detains and deports people for immigration violations. But the GAO has been urging ICE since 2013 to do a better job notifying state and local authorities about the release of sex offenders, even if the law does not explicitly require it, in the interest of public safety.
In May, after the Globe’s inquiries, ICE joined a Department of Justice program to start making electronic notifications to state and local authorities when sex offenders are released. And in the past, ICE officials say, the agency did notify local authorities “in many cases” when they released a sex offender, though the law did not require it.
Now, ICE says it will also warn sex offenders that they must register with local law enforcement after their release and 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.
On Sunday, the Globe reported that from 2008 to 2012, ICE released 424 people convicted of sex-related crimes in the United States because they could not deport them; they were among 6,800 criminals released during that period. Some 209 convicts were listed in the public sex offender registry, and of these, 53 had failed to reregister after their release, including a diagnosed pedophile in California, a convicted rapist in Florida, and a sex offender who did not register and later raped an 18-year-old woman in Virginia.
The Globe could not determine whether the remaining 215 people convicted of sex crimes should have been required to register in their particular state.
Thousands of foreign-born criminals have been released in the United States since the Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that immigration officials could not jail immigrants indefinitely for deportation if their home countries refused to accept them. Generally, the court ruled, federal officials must release immigrants after trying to deport them for six months.
However, until now the identities of the released criminals have been largely unknown because ICE refuses to divulge their names to protect their privacy. The Globe obtained their names through a federal lawsuit.
The Globe also found that ICE’s failure to notify state and local authorities led some states to wrongly classify sex offenders as deported or jailed when they had really been released in the United States.
In Georgia, for instance, officials said Monday that ICE did not inform them when the agency released Pablo Kalusa, a convicted rapist from the West African nation of Guinea, in November 2010.
His sex offender registration page said “incarcerated” until after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation responded to the Globe’s inquiries about his case. Now, his page says “absconder.”
Kalusa’s release was first reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, though the article did not mention his failure to register as a sex offender.
Under state law, officials there said, Kalusa should have registered as a sex offender within 72 hours of his release or face criminal charges. State officials told the Globe they are looking into the matter.
ICE officials said he also has failed to check in with them and is now considered a high-priority fugitive.
Keating, the Bourne representative, who is also a former Norfolk district attorney, expressed concern for potential victims of sex offenders. He said many victims are probably also immigrants, and those here without legal papers might be too afraid to call police for fear of deportation.
“The people that would most likely be at risk would be family members and other friends,” Keating said. “You’re dealing with potentially very vulnerable victims as well.”