Attorney General John Ashcroft threatened to retaliate against countries that delay or refuse to take back immigrants convicted of crimes in the United States.
The threat followed the Supreme Court’s ruling three weeks ago that immigrants cannot be jailed indefinitely while they await deportation to another country willing to take them.
Ashcroft said the ruling has created an emergency situation, and he vowed to ask Secretary of State Colin Powell to stop granting visas to those countries’ citizens.
“This should be an enormous incentive for countries to take back their criminal aliens,” he said in a statement.
“If necessary to protect the American people, I will not hesitate to exercise my responsibility under this statute to identify countries which repeatedly and wantonly violate international law.”
The June 28 ruling affected some 3,000 immigrants who have served sentences for serious crimes but whose home countries either will not accept them or no longer exist. The high court said legal immigrants convicted of certain crimes are entitled to a court hearing before they can be deported.
The Justice Department said the United States does not have repatriation agreements with Cuba, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. About 1,200 of the detainees are from those countries.
Under the Supreme Court ruling, some of the detainees could be released as early as next week.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service said the criminal aliens held in the United States include hundreds of sexual predators, drug traffickers and murderers.
Ashcroft said he has ordered several steps to ensure that dangerous aliens are not released as a result of the court’s decision. He said some criminal aliens have additional state or local sentences that they have not served, and he will work to extend their sentences. He also said some aliens will be hit with additional federal charges.
Other steps include the expanded use of anti-terrorism laws, after the Supreme Court said in its opinion that such detention might be appropriate in some circumstances.
The attorney general also said that criminal aliens who continue to stay in this country may be ordered to report to authorities and have limitations placed on their freedom.