Hearing of the House Judiciary Committee - The Release of Criminal Detainees by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement: Policy or Politics?


By:  Bob Goodlatte
Date: March 19, 2013
Location: Washington, DC

Chairman Goodlatte: The March 1 sequestration deadline required certain federal agencies and departments to reduce their budget to avoid violating mandated spending caps established under the Budget Control Act of 2011. OMB told them to "reduce risks and minimize impacts on the agency's core mission in service of the American people." DHS instead politicized sequestration by deciding to release detained criminal and illegal immigrants that are a priority for removal from the United States. This decision directly contradicts ICE's mission to promote homeland security and public safety through the enforcement of our immigration laws.

Those released by ICE include:

Illegal immigrants convicted of or charged with, theft, identity theft, forgery, and simple assault;
Illegal immigrants who had been arrested and charged with crimes -- because under policy guidelines issued by the Director -- illegal immigrants who are charged with a crime are not considered to be dangerous or criminal until they have been convicted;
Repeat immigration offenders, despite memos issued by the Director that these are "enforcement priorities"; and
Recent border crossers -- also one of the Director's enforcement priorities.

Among those released was an illegal criminal immigrant who spent nearly three years in a detention center in Georgia. According to the New York Times, this illegal immigrant became an illegal immigrant when he overstayed a visa in 1991. He was detained in 2010 when he violated probation for a conviction in 2005 of assault, battery, and child abuse, charges that sprang from domestic disputes with his ex-wife. He was transferred to ICE custody and has been contesting an existing order of deportation for over three years now.

During oral testimony at House Appropriations last week, Director Morton confirmed that the agency released 2,228 detainees from detention. Of these, 629 were criminals and 1,599 were "non-criminals."

However, Mr. Morton did not provide a breakdown of the "non-criminals." We do not know how many were charged with crimes but not yet convicted, are absconders, had existing orders of removal, or are criminal gang members. Additionally, Mr. Morton did not "think" that any of the individuals released were national security concerns.

Simultaneously, DHS claimed that all the released illegal immigrants are "low priorities" and have not committed "serious crimes." This is inconsistent with the fact that both Secretary Napolitano and Director Morton have repeatedly indicated that the agency detains only the "worst of the worst" illegal immigrants in light of their inability to detain, deport, and remove all the illegal immigrants the agency encounters based on a lack of financial resources.

Irresponsible decisions to release detained illegal immigrants unreasonably and unnecessarily put the public at risk. The question remains: Are these individuals being released based on legitimate budgetary concerns or because sequestration gave the Obama administration a political reason to release deportable aliens? Surely other budgetary considerations could have come first such as cutting expenditures for conferences, detailees, or international travel.

Releasing criminal and illegal immigrants on their own recognizance provides them little incentive to report to authorities and subject themselves to deportation; as we have learned from hard experience, many of them will simply abscond and become fugitives. Furthermore, recidivism rates are extremely high for any incarcerated population. The Director has already indicated that ICE has had to re-apprehend 4 out of 10 of those illegal immigrants released for more severe crimes. To make matters worse, many of these individuals released lack the money, family, support, and the ability to get a job -- not just because they are present in violation of the law -- but because they have a criminal record. This release is a recipe for disaster that is irresponsible and unjustified.

Ultimately, these nonsensical actions demonstrate the inability and lack of desire on behalf of the Administration to enforce the law even against illegal immigrants convicted of serious crimes. To make matters worse, they undermine the goodwill necessary to develop a common sense step by step approach to improving our immigration laws.

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