This isn’t exclusively an “Obama problem” — the boss emeritus has been scorching ICE for its catch-and-release policies for ages, starting long before O took office — but it’s important counterprogramming to the left’s narrative that Obama is some sort of fanatic about deporting illegals. Jeff Sessions put one hole in that balloon last week when his office ran the numbers and found that that if you’re here illegally and don’t have a criminal record, you’re already basically exempt from deportation. ICE won’t touch you, whether because you qualify for some sort of statutory exclusion or because Obama’s definition of “prosecutorial discretion” means that he can refuse to enforce the law in hundreds of thousands of cases.

Now here comes Mark Krikorian’s Center for Immigration Studies to add another puncture: Even among illegals who do have criminal records (not including traffic violations), tens of thousands are being released back into their communities by ICE after apprehension. That’s fully 35 percent of “criminal aliens” whom they encountered.

These figures suggest that despite claims of a focus on public safety, the administration’s prosecutorial discretion criteria are allowing factors such as family relationships, political considerations, or attention from advocacy groups to trump criminal convictions as a factor leading to deportation.

For example, the prosecutorial discretion directives issued by ICE headquarters instruct officers to release illegal aliens if the alien is a parent or caregiver, if the alien claims to be in school, if the alien has been here a long time, or if the alien claims to be eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, among other factors.8 If an alien is found to have applied for legal status, protocol requires the deportation charges be put on hold, and the benefits application may be expedited, presumably to spare the alien the consequences a criminal conviction might have on the alien’s eligibility for the legal status. In addition, ICE agents and officers have been instructed to ignore convictions for state crimes if the conviction occurred under a state law that the administration opposes or thinks is too harsh. Finally, many criminal aliens have been released from ICE custody, received case continuances, and sometimes even case dismissals as a result of petitions, protests, and vigils staged by illegal alien advocacy groups.

One locality that has been specifically targeted by ICE for politically motivated prosecutorial discretion is Maricopa County, Ariz. ICE attorneys in the Arizona field office reportedly are required to terminate deportation cases in which illegal aliens have been convicted of felony identity theft, which is a “crime involving moral turpitude” that requires mandatory detention and should cause the alien to be removed.

According to a House Judiciary report on ICE’s 2012 numbers flagged by CIS, 26,000 “criminal illegals” were released last year and then went on to commit more than 4,000 major felonies, including 59 murders. My assumption is that most of the criminals they’re releasing have been convicted of nonviolent offenses, like identity theft (mentioned above) or drug use; the administration has, in theory, a powerful political incentive to send violent criminals home before they do something ghastly here that gins up a round of bad press that’s unhelpful to the cause of amnesty. The House Judiciary numbers confound that assumption, though. INS is guaranteeing that thousands of otherwise preventable crimes, some violent, will be committed by going easy on a population of criminal illegals that approaches 70,000.

Why would CIS showcase this data now, though? Because, as you hopefully remember, Obama’s in the process of caving to amnesty fans by ordering DHS to review its deportation procedures to make them “more humane.” Immigration activists have been in his face for months demanding that he at least lighten up on deportations if he’s not prepared to impose a formal moratorium for all illegals. But he already has lightened up on non-criminal illegals, as noted above; to find any extra leniency, ICE will have to go even easier on the criminal class. A report like this won’t stop Obama from doing that in the name of pandering to the left with leniency generally — lefty media won’t carry it, after all, and even if they did, what liberal’s mind will change because of it? — but it might make Republican fencesitters in the House a bit more jittery about a new amnesty push. Who wants to confront an angry voter at a townhall with this information at his or her fingertips?

The grand irony here, courtesy of the Times, is that the left’s narrative about Obama being a deportation hard-ass has worked so well among Latino voters that … it risks suppressing their turnout for Democrats in the midterms and beyond. The White House itself has occasionally pushed that message to parry the GOP’s claim that O is some kind of unprecedented softie on immigration, and now it’s at risk of blowing up in their faces. Imagine if the big Republican rethink on immigration after 2012, with reform once again stalled in the Republican-controlled House, actually ends up with a backlash against Democrats because President Overreach declined to unilaterally amnestize 11 million people himself. Too funny.