Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and five Senate colleagues today pressed Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano for answers about why so many criminal aliens are being released rather than deported.
"Catch and release is good for world class trout fisheries like the Provo River, but using this philosophy to stop deporting drug offenders, spouse abusers and sexual deviants and putting these illegal aliens back on our streets and in our neighborhoods is simply inexcusable," Hatch said, explaining why he and Senate colleagues sent the Oct. 20, 2010, letter to Napolitano.
In their letter, the senators noted that media reports indicate deportation proceedings against illegal aliens are being dismissed in record numbers as a result of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) directive that advises its attorneys to seek dismissal of all cases involving criminal aliens who have committed fewer than two felonies and are not guilty of an aggravated felony.
"As a result, it appears that your Department is doing the very thing that we have raised concerns about in several letters -- allowing illegal aliens to evade the law while waiting, without much concern about removal, to one day obtain legal status," the senators wrote. "Though Congress has been slow to reach a comprehensive immigration solution, your Department is charged with enforcing the law as written and it should not be adopting a lax approach to immigration enforcement or selectively enforcing the laws against only those aliens it considers a priority."
To gain a better understanding of the problem, the senators asked Napolitano to provide them with a list of the number of cases dismissed since the beginning of the year and, in cases of criminal aliens, what crimes they committed and where. They also asked her to detail how much funding her Department needed to enforce immigration laws consistently "for every illegal alien" arrested by ICE agents.
Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) also signed the letter.
A copy of the senators' letter to Secretary Napolitano is attached and follows:
The Honorable Janet Napolitano
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Nebraska Avenue Complex
245 Murray Lane, Mailstop 0150
Washington, DC 20528-0150
Dear Secretary Napolitano:
Recently, media reports have revealed that pending removal proceedings are being dismissed in record numbers. That sharp increase in dismissals is the result of a directive from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John T. Morton to all ICE attorneys to review pending cases and seek dismissal if the cases do not involve Level I offenders (aliens convicted of aggravated felonies or two or more felonies). Specifically, ICE attorneys are directed to seek dismissal of cases involving Level II and Level III criminal aliens so long as the aliens have no felony convictions and no more than two misdemeanors. As we understand it, cases involving aliens with misdemeanors involving domestic violence, sexual crimes, or driving while intoxicated would not be dropped.
Though the reports focused only on cases pending before Houston immigration judges, our understanding is that the ICE directive applies nationwide. Numerous criminal aliens are being released into society and are having proceedings terminated simply because ICE has decided that such cases do not fit within the Department's chosen enforcement priorities.
The ICE directive, along with other recently announced detention and removal policies, raises serious questions about your Department's commitment to enforce the immigration laws. It appears that your Department is enforcing the law based on criteria it arbitrarily chose, with complete disregard for the enforcement laws created by Congress. The repercussions of this decision extend beyond removal proceedings, because it discourages officers from even initiating new removal proceedings if they believe the case ultimately will be dismissed based on the new directive.
Even more disturbing is the fact that your Department has chosen to dismiss cases against criminal aliens, including aliens who have committed crimes involving moral turpitude, crimes of violence, assault, theft, fraud, drug offenses, driving under the influence, and illegal entry.
To be sure, ICE has cited a lack of resources as one of the reasons for its prioritization of cases and for its selective enforcement. But to date, we have not seen any efforts by ICE, your Department, or the Administration to request an increase in ICE funding sufficient to address staffing shortages, detention capacity, and coordination of enforcement efforts nationwide to achieve a streamlined and robust immigration removal system. As a result, it appears that your Department is doing the very thing that we have raised concerns about in several letters -- allowing illegal aliens to evade the law while waiting, without much concern about removal, to one day obtain legal status. Though Congress has been slow to reach a comprehensive immigration solution, your Department is charged with enforcing the law as written and it should not be adopting a lax approach to immigration enforcement or selectively enforcing the laws against only those aliens it considers a priority.
We would like a detailed list of the number of cases that have been dismissed since January 2010 to the present. If the case involved a criminal alien, we also would like you to identify which crimes the aliens were convicted of and in which jurisdiction. In addition, we want you to detail exactly how much funding your Department would require to ensure that enforcement of the law occurs consistently for every illegal alien encountered and apprehended by ICE or U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Please respond by November 15th.
John Cornyn, United States Senator
Jeff Sessions, United States Senator
Jon Kyl, United States Senator
Orrin Hatch, United States Senator
Chuck Grassley, United States Senator
Lindsey Graham, United States Senator
Tom Coburn, M.D., United States Senator