In March, Jose Manuel Gonzalez-Sandoval — who had committed serious crimes in the United States since 1998 — stood before Florence, Ariz., Immigration Judge Bruce Taylor on a deportation hearing. That day the judge canceled his removal proceedings, allowing him to stay in the United States.
Four months later, Sandoval was arrested again on an outstanding warrant but was released. Three days after that release he led police on a 100 mph car chase. Then in August, in response to a 911 call from his family, he shot at Arizona deputies who came to his home. That night, he escaped. He later turned himself into authorities after they began a public manhunt for him.
Sandoval, who had resident status, is only one example of a legal system that lacks working mechanisms for deporting criminal aliens, said Rep. Ted Poe, a Texas Republican and former judge.
“The federal government has the responsibility, the moral duty to send these criminal aliens back where they came from after they do their prison time and before they commit more crimes,” said Poe, who is co-chair of the Victims’ Rights Caucus. He said both the Obama and Bush administrations handled the issue ineffectively, hiding facts from the American people and “sugar-coating” the truth regarding the deportation of criminal aliens.
This month, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency announced that the Obama administration is planning to dismiss thousands of illegal alien deportation cases, possibly 17,000, if the immigrants have a potential path to legal residency or overstayed their visas.
But critics say many illegal aliens with long criminal records composed of what some courts consider to be lesser charges will see their deportation cases dismissed as well. They cite Sandoval as an example.
“The system is skewed to release these criminals,” said Poe, a former judge. He recalled many times he saw repeat criminal offenders back in his courtroom after issuing detainers, which required the federal government to deport them after they served their U.S. sentences.
“The detainers don’t work, because we either don’t have enough federal agents, the administration doesn’t make it a priority and there isn’t any accountability when alien criminals are released back into society,” Poe said.
ICE, Border Patrol and local law enforcement officers told The Washington Examiner that law enforcement agencies are frustrated by the judicial system’s approach to handling immigrants charged with crimes.
“In the case of Sandoval, ICE did the right thing,” said a federal official who spoke on the condition that he not be named. “They checked his long criminal history, he had two or more crimes involving morale turpitude and should have been deported and had his residency taken away. What does the administration have to say about this? He’s only one of thousands of bad guys that get away with this.”
Said an ICE agent: “What can we do when immigration judges are granted this huge discretionary authority? There is no oversight. This case could have resulted in the death of a police officer.”
Kathryn Mattingly, with the Executive Office for Immigration Review, said, “The Office of the Chief Immigration Judge regularly monitors immigration judge performance and conduct through EOIR’s performance management program and through its daily supervision of the courts.”
She said that in “instances where concerns regarding an immigration judge’s conduct arise … any allegations are investigated and resolved in a fair and expeditious manner,” adding that “such investigations could include scenarios where an immigration judge consistently makes ill-advised decisions.”
Sandoval’s Department of Homeland Security arrest record history was obtained by The Examiner.
He had used an alias, Samuel Mendoza, and as early as 1998 he had been arrested for damage to private property and simple assault. Since then he has been arrested for drunken driving, drug charges multiple aggravated assaults, multiple endangerment charges and use of a deadly weapon. In many cases, he was not prosecuted, simply fined and released, according to the documents.
The federal law governing criminal immigrants states that “if you have been convicted of two crimes involving moral turpitude not arising out of a single scheme of criminal misconduct,” you are supposed to be deported.
However, judges have repeatedly used their own discretion not to deport him.
“There is no legal liability on the part of the judge, and you can’t charge a judge for using their discretion,” Poe said. “The judge is morally responsible to follow through with the law because if someone is killed or injured, the blood is on the judge’s hands.”
Sara A. Carter is The Washington Examiner’s national security correspondent. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.