An internal U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) document obtained by the House Judiciary Committee reveals that the agency planned to release thousands of criminal aliens onto the streets to reduce the agency's costs in light of sequestration. As of February 15, 2013, the document shows that ICE had roughly 31,000 illegal immigrants and criminal aliens in detention -- already below the 34,000 mandated by Congress -- and planned to reduce that number to less than 26,000 by March 31, 2013. According to sources, roughly 2,000 criminal aliens may have already been released so far. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte issued the statement below regarding the disclosure of the internal ICE document.
Chairman Goodlatte: "An internal document obtained by the House Judiciary Committee shows that Administration officials at ICE prepared cold calculations to release thousands of criminal aliens onto the streets and did not demonstrate any consideration of the impact this decision would have on the safety of Americans. The decision to release detained aliens undermines the Department of Homeland Security's mission to keep our homeland secure and instead makes our communities less safe and more vulnerable to crime.
"Clearly, there are better ways to save money than to release criminals onto the streets. The House Judiciary Committee has found several ways the Department could save money in light of sequestration, such as reducing staff bonuses and performance awards and using unspent funds from inefficient state and local grant programs. But regardless of sequestration, DHS actually has plenty of funding to pay for the detention of criminal aliens. Unfortunately, it seems Administration officials are more interested in using sequestration to promote their political agenda than as an opportunity to get our nation's fiscal house in order. The Judiciary Committee plans to hold a hearing on this issue soon to get down to the bottom of this problematic situation."
Background: A review of DHS's budget demonstrates that the Department actually has plenty of funding to pay for the detention of criminal aliens for three reasons. First, the Department has carried or will carry forward billions of dollars in fiscal years 2012 and 2013. Last year, the Department announced an unobligated balance of over $8 billion. The Office of Management and Budget projected that at the end of fiscal year 2013, the Department would have more than $9 billion in unobligated funds. Second, DHS has at least $70 million in unobligated user fee balances they could reprogram if they were to fall short. And third, the Office of Management and Budget has not even fully apportioned all of ICE's funding for this year yet--$22 million is still to come.
There are better ways for the Department and its agencies to save money under sequestration. For example, DHS could reduce staff bonuses and performance awards; eliminate non-critical travel, especially international travel; trim down receptions and conferences; use unspent funds from inefficient state and local grants; and eliminate the duplication of other agency efforts.
Last week, Chairman Goodlatte and Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to Secretary Janet Napolitano demanding answers as to why ICE planned to release criminals onto our streets. To date, the letter has gone unanswered. The House Judiciary Committee plans to hold a hearing on this issue soon.