Whose mistake led to a previously deported immigrant being released from a local jail back onto the streets?
The Mexican national is now charged in five murders.
Pablo Serrano-Vitorino was deported years ago. He had criminal convictions. He should not have been in the country.
Overland Park had picked up Serrano-Vitorino on a traffic violation in September.
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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said Serrano-Vitorino was released because he was never sent to the county, where ICE had sent the request that he be detained.
But the situation is probably more convoluted than what immigration officials have admitted so far, even as more information continues to filter out.
Presumably, if ICE had followed up on its request for Overland Park to hold Serrano-Vitorino, then ICE should have discovered its own error. And then feasibly, the lives of five innocent people could have been saved.
We’ll likely never know. It’s the surmising, replaying of events, that follows horrific violence. What more could have been done to prevent the murders that happened in Kansas City, Kan., this week?
The case of Serrano-Vitorino may well be a tragic, possibly avoidable display of the complications that ICE, county sheriffs and cities have been struggling with for years in regard to illegal immigrants.
First, cease the easy finger-pointing. The issue of illegal immigrants who commit heinous crimes often raises uninformed hackles; people claiming that cities are giving immigrant criminals sanctuary, or that sheriffs aren’t cooperating with Department of Homeland Security.
That’s not how local policing agencies operate. The policies in the Kansas City area are generally far more measured. Most of the major law enforcement agencies do not want to be viewed as immigration agents, busting up families to discover who might not be legally in the country. They don’t generally do raids.
The reason is that immigrants can be victims of crime, witnesses to it and yes, perpetrators. Police need cooperation within migrant communities to solve crime; they don’t want to needlessly alienate.
That said, police aren’t inclined to go soft on any immigrant illegally present who commits a violent crime. Local law enforcement agencies on both sides of the state line routinely work well with ICE agents.
As of late Wednesday, ICE said the fact that Serrano-Vitorino was never sent to Johnson County custody meant it couldn’t follow through on a plan to deport him. That may well be what happened. But there were other times when other law enforcement came into contact with him.
Much of the confusion traces back to problems with detainers — requests from ICE that a jurisdiction hold a person.
A detainer request only begins the process to deport a person. It merely gives ICE a 48-hour period, usually plus weekends, to decide if it’s going to follow through.
But U.S. citizens and others have been held on such detainers, just because ICE asked. Once they finally were released, wrongly detained people sued. Federal courts determined that instead of ICE being liable, damages fell on the local counties and cities.
That’s when counties and cities began to push back a few years ago. They would no longer honor the detainers unless ICE provided more solid legal reasoning, like a warrant.
The most recent prominent case of detainer problems involved a man in New York who had been arrested in a drug case. He was sent for a shock program, often used to give someone with a relatively minor offense a taste of prison so that they will accept help for an addiction and cease any related crimes.
ICE detained Davino Watson, intending to deport him. Problem was, Watson is a U.S. citizen. He was held for 1,273 days. The resulting lawsuit was decided in Watson’s favor in late February.
ICE scrapped its detainer program in November 2014 to retool.
Immigrants, legal and illegal, move in and out of touch with law enforcement often very quickly; depending upon whether they are charged with a crime, held in prison, convicted or simply given a warning. ICE simply does not have the resources or legal authority to be notified or act on every interaction. They operate on somewhat on a triage system, guided by what cases take priority.
Given his past deportation and other criminal actions, Serrano-Vitorino appears to fit within the scope of ICE priority cases under the new system. More information will certainly be revealed in the coming days.
And it may be shown that no one — neither ICE nor local law enforcement — broke policy.
Time will tell. And admittedly, that will hold no solace for the victims’ families.