Mr. COATS. Mr. President, a few weeks ago, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, otherwise known as ICE, initiated an unexplainable order to take action to reduce the population of detained illegal aliens, and they said it was for budgetary reasons. I quote a spokesman for ICE, who said the decision was made because ``fiscal uncertainty remains over the continuing resolution and possible sequestration ..... ''
Well, we have had fiscal uncertainty for 4 years now, and the decision to release these detainees was made before the sequestration even took place. The procedures put in place under the continuing resolution and the resources for covering the costs of detaining these illegal immigrants until they could be brought to trial and sent back home were put in place by the funding we provided for the agency in September, running through the end of this month, or until March 27. So a lot of questions need to be answered about ICE's decision because there was a furor over why we are releasing illegal immigrants back on the streets of America. Why are we putting these people back out on the streets when the law didn't require it? The resources were there to keep there, and yet many were released before the sequestration even took place--before the across-the-board cuts even took place--and I want to get some answers. So I wrote Secretary Napolitano a letter asking her to provide answers to a series of questions, which I will state in a moment, and have the answer to me in my office by Friday, March 8.
Well, I returned today to find the answer was not there. I could give the Secretary the benefit of the doubt and say it is in the mail. We know it doesn't always guarantee next-day delivery. Nevertheless, I think the American people need to know. Particularly those impacted, those communities impacted by these illegal immigrants--not knowing who they are, not knowing why they were released, not knowing whether we can bring them back to stand before a judge and plead their case or be processed for return.
The law enforcement officials in these communities are up in arms because they don't know who these people are. They don't know whether they are criminals; they don't know whether they are ever going to be able to bring them back into the ICE system and be detained and readied for processing. So that is why I asked the Secretary to respond to my letter.
Subsequent to that, officials at ICE have denied recent press reports regarding plans to release even more detained illegal immigrants. Last Tuesday, an internal ICE document obtained by the House Judiciary Committee revealed a plan of ICE to continue reducing detention center populations each week while the sequestration is in place. That document shows one scenario where the number of illegal immigrants in custody could be reduced by more than 1,000 a week between February 15 and March 31. The initial report said it was a couple hundred--I think 300 was the number given--only to find out it is more than 1,000, and now we find out it may be more than 1,000 each week for about a 6- or 7-week period of time.
What we are trying to do is get the facts and get an explanation of what has happened, why it took place in the manner it did, and what is the administration's plan for going forward with this. I am doing this because as ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, I am getting all kinds of questions from people--not just my colleagues but others across the country--basically asking what is going on here. I wish to be able to respond to those questions with answers, or have the Department respond.
As the head of the Department, Secretary Napolitano needs to provide information on who made this decision, why this decision was made, why was it made before sequestration even took effect, why was the number of released individuals said to be around 300 when it was well over 1,000? Releasing the detained individuals has the potential to put these communities at risk and sends a message to those who come here and break the law as illegal immigrants that our government is not serious. I am sure word is spreading through Mexico and other ports of entry to illegal immigrants: Don't worry, you may get picked up; you may get put in a detention center; they will provide a bed, food, and so on, but they are releasing 1,000 a week. I can just see the traffickers now pitching this to tens of hundreds or thousands of people, taking their money, getting them across the border, reaching the fence, or tunneling under the fence or climbing over the fence, or any of a number of other ways they are bringing illegals into this country.
I spent 3 days down on the border. While we are making some strides, we have a long way to go to stop this illegal immigration. So we need clarification and we need an explanation of what has happened.
Let me state some of the questions I have raised to the Secretary:
Why did the Federal Government release detained illegal immigrants 1 week before the sequester took effect and blame it on budget cuts when those cuts had not even yet been put into place?
Why didn't ICE take the proper steps necessary to manage its resources efficiently across the various programs? As I said earlier, the Congress itself provided them with adequate resources to maintain a level of 34,000 illegal detainees per year and not go below that. They do not need to go below that number because they had the resources to pay for it. They are required by Congress to do that.
What triggered ICE to instruct field offices to reduce the detainee population a week before the sequestration hit?
How many illegal immigrants were released during that time?
Exactly how many of these individuals were released solely due to budget reasons?
How many of the released individuals, if any, were designated as criminal? The law enforcement people obviously need to know that.
Have instructions been given to field offices to reduce the intake and arrests of illegal aliens into detention?
These are just some of the many questions I asked Secretary Napolitano because I think Congress and the American people deserve answers.
As the head of the Department, Secretary Napolitano has the ultimate responsibility to oversee the decisions in the management of agency resources. She said this decision was made at a level below her. We hear a lot of that from administration officials: It is not my fault, it is somebody else's fault. That is why they rise to the position of Secretary, because they are the ones who ultimately oversee the program and need to take responsibility, or at least need to answer a question posed by a Member of the Senate as to why they did what they did and how we are going to fix this.
Failing to respond to the Congress and to our requests and the failure to provide the American people with more information behind this decision is simply not something we should accept. I will keep pressing for these answers.
Mr. President, I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.