Slayings of 5 in S.F. cited to back immigrant detention bill

Lawmakers are using revelations about the suspect in the slaying of five San Francisco residents to push legislation that would allow lengthier detention of criminal immigrants who cannot be repatriated.

Binh Thai Luc, 35, of San Francisco was arrested Sunday in connection with the slayings of five people in a home in the Ingleside neighborhood. He had been taken into custody in August 2006 after serving time for assault and attempted robbery but had to be released six months later after Vietnamese authorities declined to provide appropriate travel documents for his deportation, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Supreme Court rulings hold that continued detention of an immigrant becomes unlawful after 180 days, when “no significant likelihood of removal exists in the reasonably foreseeable future.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) released a statement Tuesday morning calling attention to a bill he introduced in May that aims to allow the Department of Homeland Security to detain “as long as necessary” immigrants deemed to be criminals who cannot be deported to their native countries.

The proposed law allows for a review of an immigrant’s detention every six months. Officials said Luc, a convicted felon, probably would have remained in custody under the proposal.

“Just because a criminal immigrant cannot be returned to their home country does not mean they should be freed into our communities,” Smith said in a statement tailored to the Luc case. “Dangerous criminal immigrants need to be detained.”

A Judiciary Committee aide said the bill was approved by the panel in July and now awaits floor consideration.

The legislation has ignited opposition from civil rights groups. Ahilan Arulanantham, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, testified against the bill in May, and Tuesday he called the law’s provisions “deeply misguided.”

“We don’t indefinitely detain people after their sentences are finished in the name of public safety,” he said. “That violates our most basic constitutional principles.”

Smith’s bill follows a Florida law that allows judges to deny bail to violent criminals who commit a felony while on probation. The Officer Andrew Widman Act, signed into law in May, was named for a police officer killed by a Cuban immigrant who was on supervised probation and also was ineligible for deportation.