Whenever U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detains illegal immigrants or legal foreign nationals with criminal backgrounds, its efforts to deport them to their native countries aren’t always successful — not by a long shot. And whenever ICE exhausts available legal mechanisms in attempting to return those who have committed crimes — even if they’re in the country legally — to their homes, it sets those criminals free in the United States.
A remarkable investigative story Sunday in Minneapolis’ Star Tribune recounts the aftermath of one such failed deportation: the freeing of Somali national Omar Kalmio, who subsequently murdered four people in North Dakota. He was convicted in 2013.
“Omar Kalmio was never supposed to get to North Dakota,” the Tribune’s Mark Brunswick wrote. “The Somali national from Eagan was supposed to be deported because of his violent criminal record in Minnesota. Instead, he was released from custody when federal officials could not send him back to Somalia. Eight months later, he murdered four people in Minot in one of the most deadly crimes ever committed in modern-day North Dakota.”
While the audacity of his crime may seem aberrant, the circumstances that allowed Kalmio the free rein to kill people are not. In the region the Tribune examined, most of the immigrants whom ICE has set free are criminals.
“In the Upper Midwest, including Minnesota, more than 85 percent of the more than 800 who have been released are what the government considers their most dangerous offenders,” the report states. “Many have committed additional crimes after being released from an immigration system that appears hamstrung and intensely secretive.”
Nationwide, ICE has released at least five convicted terrorists and “hundreds” of convicted murderers.
It has to do this, under U.S. law. Currently, the government must operate under a six-month time constraint to deport foreign nationals who’ve been convicted of crimes in the U.S. or whose deeper criminal pasts surface through fresh documentation. But once that period expires, there’s no legal backup plan. As the report indicates, U.S. courts have consistently protected immigrants — even those who represent criminal risks — from indefinite detainment.
Inevitably, immigrants’ home countries don’t want to take back known criminals, and they often stall the bureaucratic process with the knowledge that the problem will forever fall in the lap of the U.S. government, once six months have passed.
Since the early 2000s, when court precedents set the tone for the policies ICE now follows, “Congress has struggled to set the balance between protecting the public and protecting the Constitution,” wrote Brunswick. “So far, it has found no answer.”