Immigrants with criminal records are reoffending at rates much higher than federal authorities have been willing to admit.

That’s a failure of government transparency, and a frustration to everyone who wants effective immigration policy built upon good information. It’s tragic to anyone who has had a loved one harmed by someone who should not even be in this country.

It is also ammunition to anyone who wants to disparage noncitizens by furthering the false narrative of the dangerous immigrant.

At a time when the debate over immigration is so important yet so easily derailed by hysteria and xenophobia, the Obama administration has to do better.

TRACKING DATA

Authorities can start by better tracking the outcomes of immigrants who are released, and making that information available to the public.

In the absence of that data, it took the Boston Globe two years to catch up with 323 criminals — noncitizens here legally and illegally — released in New England following the completion of their sentences, and after their home countries refused to take them back.

As many as 30 percent had committed new offenses, including rape and attempted murder, the Globe found.

That’s far more than the 10 percent or so Immigration and Customs Enforcement has suggested in the past, and with a reported 36,007 criminal immigrants released in fiscal year 2013 alone — against more than 430,000 deportations — it is a significant difference.

That’s thousands of people with criminal records released into communities without any notice. Victims, law enforcement, even sex offender registries have no way of knowing.

According to the Globe, one man with a “lengthy criminal record” was released in Maine in 2010 and later robbed a man at knifepoint outside a convenience store. Another killed a 25-year-old Connecticut woman last year.

That man, Jean Jacques, was released after his home country of Haiti refused to take him, something that is also far more common than the administration has said in the past — ICE told a congressional committee that only 23 nations were refusing deportations, but about 140 countries have refused at least some, the Globe reported.

The Supreme Court has ruled that immigrants cannot be held indefinitely, and in most cases incarcerated immigrants have to be set free within six months of the end of their sentence if they can’t be deported.

That puts ICE in a difficult position — they can’t simply drop criminals at the border. But it does not excuse underselling the scope of the problem, or its sometimes tragic end result.

Only now that the problem is fully understood — including by members of Congress, who have also been misled — can policy be changed to keep people safe and provide the right kind of oversight.

IMMIGRANTS’ LOW CRIME RATE

This new information, however, should not be used to scare Americans. It should be no surprise that our prison system, which does so poorly at rehabilitation, is not rehabilitating people.

In fact, overall recidivism rates for prisoners are much higher than for noncitizens, even when the Globe’s findings are taken into account, and incarceration rates for foreign-born adults are less than half the rate for U.S.-born adults.

The same holds true for recent immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala, often the target of anti-immigrant sentiment. Overall, crime rates for first-generation immigrants, too, are much lower than for the general population.

That is important to remember. The reductive debate over immigration often lumps all immigrants together, and that is counterproductive for a country that relies on immigration so heavily.

The information dug up by the Globe should not be used to cast dispersions on all noncitizens, but to focus on strengthening the deportation process. Now that the Obama administration can’t hide the inadequacy of the system, ICE officials have to show they can fix it.


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