“It is the judgment of the board that he should be paroled [to federal immigration officials] for possible deportation,” wrote the parole board in its unanimous vote on Sept. 24, 2010.
More than two years later, Truong is still here—in MCI-Shirley, a Massachusetts prison, after flunking a drug test he was required to take as a condition of his release.
No one has to tell Qian Wu’s widower about immigrants getting light sentences for heavy crimes. Yongwei Guo’s wife was killed by an illegal immigrant who prosecutors said was initially sentenced to only 30 days in prison for attacking her the first time. Immigration officials ultimately detained Huang Chen off and on for more than three years in hopes of deporting him, but it wasn’t enough.
“They are not taking responsibility,” Guo said. “They can’t let such a dangerous man free merely because China won’t take him.”
No warning for victims
Long after her assailant went off to prison, Qian Wu kept an eye out for him in her Flushing, N.Y., neighborhood, scanning the crush of pedestrians flowing into the markets, the take-out joints, and the massage parlors nearby. She quizzed the fruit vendors on the street. Nobody had seen Huang Chen. Nonetheless, Wu kept a restraining order out against him — just in case.
Wu had a tough exterior, but those close to her said her attitude masked her fear. She was thin and walked with a limp from injuries she suffered in a car accident years ago. She hardly spoke English, and she had fled political repression in China. And until she remarried in 2008, Wu was a woman on her own, running an employment service for immigrants.
“She was disabled, so she had to be tougher than the others,” said Guo.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country at a detention center in El Paso, federal officials were trying to figure out what to do with Chen, a man who could seem normal one moment and mentally unbalanced the next. Immigration officials continued to hold Chen for another year after his 30-day sentence ran out, holding out hope that China would take him back.
When that didn’t happen, an immigration agent dropped Chen off at a local homeless shelter, in April 2008.
But just two months later, El Paso police arrested Chen after he punched two men in a plaza downtown. Then, just days after Chen got out of jail for the assaults, police arrested him again on a disorderly conduct charge for attacking a man on a bicycle right in front of them. Police described him as “a danger” to himself and others in their report.
Chen returned to the El Paso detention center to await deportation, but again China refused to take him back, so in October 2009, immigration officials again released him. This time, he made it clear that he wanted to get back to New York. He blamed Qian Wu for his troubles, court records later showed, and he knew exactly where to find her: Apartment 3F in a building on 40th Road.
When Chen walked through Wu’s unlocked front door for the first time since 2006, she ran downstairs and begged neighbors to call 911. She asked police and prosecutors for help with a new restraining order, since hers had expired, but never managed to get one. Guo warned his wife to stay inside.
One desperate night, Guo recalled, he asked Wu what they should do, and she responded bitterly.
“She said we can just wait to die,” he said.
Most victims, including Wu, have no idea that the criminal who victimized them has been released, based on a Globe analysis of ICE’s little-known victim notification program and the number of immigrants released from its custody. Federal immigration statistics show ICE has released or deported more than 1 million criminals over the past decade, but they have made just 1,000 to 3,000 victim notifications.
Currently, only 336 crime victims are enrolled in ICE’s program, compared with 2.2 million victims in the Justice Department’s electronic notification system in 2010 alone.
Immigration officials say they want more crime victims to sign up for their system, but it’s up to the victims to register. Wu’s widower was unsure whether she had been offered the opportunity to enroll, though he knows she would have been interested.
The Queens district attorney’s office, which handled Chen’s attacks on Wu, said they were not aware of Chen’s release. ICE officials say they are under no obligation to contact law enforcement officials when civil immigration detainees are released, though they do so when officials request it.
In Flushing, court records show, Chen stalked the panicked Wu for days. He moved into the same building, a few doors down. He tried to reach through the metal gate on her door and unlock it. He even took the $200 her husband gave him to go away.Continued...