July 1, 2015
Arizona Republic
Daniel Gonzalez

The killing of a Mesa store clerk has prompted federal immigration officials to tighten their policy for granting bond to convicted criminals held in custody.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Sarah Saldana has instructed officers in the field to look at a detainee's entire criminal history when deciding whether to grant bond. In the past, immigration officers limited bond reviews to detainees' criminal convictions, a senior ICE official told The Arizona Republic on Wednesday.

The change is intended to prevent crimes by convicted criminals who are released on bond, the ICE official said.

Saldana ordered the change in response to a case involving Apolinar Altamirano, a 29-year-old undocumented immigrant from Mexico. He is charged with gunning down 21-year-old Grant Ronnebeck at a QuikTrip in Mesa in January after Altamirano had been released from ICE custody.

"Director Saldana is very concerned about the totality of the circumstances of his criminal history, and once she was made aware of that, she has given subsequent guidance to the field to look more broadly at an individual's criminal history and not just at what the criminal conviction was," said the ICE official, who spoke on background because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., whose district includes Mesa, introduced legislation last week that would require ICE to hold undocumented immigrants convicted of serious crimes and deport them within 90 days in an effort to prevent them from being released and committing more crimes.

In a written statement, Salmon said ICE's new bond policy is "too little, too late" for the families of more than 120 victims killed by immigrants released from ICE custody.

Altamirano had been turned over to ICE in January 2013 after he pleaded guilty to a felony burglary charge and was sentenced to two years' probation.

ICE, however, released Altamirano after holding him for just four days when he posted a $10,000 bond pending the outcome of his deportation proceedings in immigration court.

ICE granted the bond because the burglary conviction had been deemed non-violent and Altamirano had not been sentenced to any prison time, which ICE officials said indicated he was not a public-safety threat.

But as The Republic reported in February, police and court records showed that Altamirano initially was charged in 2012 with burglary in the second degree and theft, both Class 3 felonies, after a woman reported to police that she had been kidnapped in her apartment by Altamirano and two other suspects.

The woman told police the three suspects made her strip, stole everything in her apartment, drove her to a house at gunpoint and kept her locked inside a bedroom until she escaped from a window. The woman also accused Altamirano of sexually assaulting her, according to the court records.

Altamirano was not charged with sexual assault. He denied the allegations and was allowed to plead to a reduced burglary charge.

Under Saldana's new policy, ICE would not have granted Altamirano bond, the ICE official said. It's still possible, however, that Altamirano could have been released if ICE had denied Altamirano bond and the decision was overturned by an immigration judge, the ICE official said.

Salmon said he introduced the legislation in response to the killing of Ronnebeck and others whose deaths are tied to undocumented immigrants released from ICE custody.

The Department of Homeland Security disclosed in June that from 2010 to 2014, 121 undocumented immigrants were later charged with homicide after they had been released from ICE custody while awaiting deportation proceedings.

"It's a shame that my bill has to be taken up by Congress to make the Obama administration do its job and enforce our immigration laws," Salmon said in his statement. "It's an outright tragedy that only the innocent lives of 122 victims could force the administration to finally address its policy of releasing illegal immigrants with criminal records into our communities."

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