Legislative Update: 5/3/2016
Nearly 20,000 Criminal Aliens Released by ICE in 2015
Last Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee revealed detailed information about criminal aliens released by the Obama administration during Fiscal Year 2015. (Goodlatte Press Release, Apr. 28, 2016) This new information shows that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released nearly 20,000 criminal aliens convicted of a wide variety of offenses, including those violent in nature. (Id.)
The information, provided by ICE to the committee, confirms that the agency released 19,723 criminal aliens with a total of 64,197 convictions in Fiscal Year 2015 alone. (Id.) Among the convictions of these criminal aliens released directly into American communities are 208 homicide related convictions, 216 kidnapping convictions, 320 sexual assault convictions, 352 commercialized sexual offenses, 1,347 domestic violence convictions, 1,728 assault convictions, and 12,307 driving under the influence convictions. (Id.)
ICE Director Sarah Saldaña and other administration officials continue to claim that the Supreme Court’s decision in Zadvydas v. Davis forces ICE to release criminal aliens that they would otherwise detain. (Id.) That case held that a convicted criminal alien who had completed his sentence but whose country or origin refused repatriation could not be detained indefinitely. (Id.) However, of the 19,723 criminal aliens released in Fiscal Year 2015, only 2,166 — or 11 percent — were because of the Zadvydas case. (Id.) In reality, 7,293 criminal aliens were released due to “ICE discretion,” meaning ICE could have kept them in detention but elected not to. (Id.) Further, 10,175 criminal aliens were released due to an immigration judge’s decision, which, in many cases, can be influenced by the way ICE attorneys argue for detention. (Id.) Therefore, ICE could have decided to detain or fought to detain 89 percent of the criminal aliens released during the last fiscal year. (Id.)
Top ICE Official Downplays Releasing Criminal Aliens into American Neighborhoods
Last Thursday, the House Oversight and Government Reform (OGR) Committee held a hearing entitled “Criminal Aliens Released by The Department of Homeland Security.” (Oversight and Government Reform Committee) Shortly before the hearing, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) provided statistics showing they released 19,723 criminals, who committed 64,197 crimes between them, back into American communities during Fiscal Year 2015. (See ICE Report, April 2016) The hearing was divided into two panels with ICE Director Sarah Saldaña testifying alone in the first panel. The second panel consisted of Ralph Martin, Chief of Police for Santa Maria; Chris Burbank, Director at the Center for Policing; and two parents of Americans killed by illegal aliens: Wendy Hartling, mother of Casey Chadwick; and Scott Root, father of Sarah Root.
The OGR hearing was contentious from the start. In his opening statement, Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) said, “preparing for this hearing it was hard to keep my cool.” “These are people that were here illegally, got caught committing a crime, were convicted of that crime and instead of deporting them, they were just released back out in the United States of America,” he continued. Chaffetz added that what is going on with ICE “has been one of the most infuriating thins I have seen in this government yet.” (See Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, Apr. 28, 2016)
In response, Director Saldaña defended ICE’s handling of criminal aliens. Saldaña claimed that she wanted to remove the criminals but was unable because at least two-thirds of the criminals ICE released were required either by court orders or the Supreme Court Ruling in Zadvydas v. Davis, which held that a convicted criminal alien who had completed his sentence but whose country of origin refused repatriation could not be detained indefinitely. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Apr. 21, 2015, Zadvydas v. Davis, 533 U.S. 678 (2001)) Defiantly, Saldaña lectured Chairman Chaffetz that “immigration shouldn’t be bandied around like a political football” and the Committee should “focus on solutions not political banter.”
Despite Saldaña’s claim of not wanting to politicize the issue, the hearing clearly showed that ICE’s hands are not tied with respect to criminals being released back into our communities. Indeed, the actual numbers Saldaña provided contradict her claim that ICE did not have discretion in the removal of two-thirds of the criminals released. While Zadvydas did require the release of 2,166 criminals, ICE would have participated in the decision making of the 10,175 released by court order. (See ICE Report, April 2016) Moreover, ICE had complete discretion over the 7,293 criminals it released even though it had 5,800 detention beds that went empty last year. (Washington Times, Apr. 28, 2016) Disturbingly, nearly 20,000 criminals were released into American communities when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) leadership, which oversees ICE, reprogrammed $113 million from detention and removal operations to other DHS components. This administration is requesting less money and fewer beds for ICE enforcement and removal operations. (Oversight and Government Reform Committee)
Saldaña further argued that many criminals were released because the home country of a person ordered deported refused to take that person back. There were only 89 cases where ICE was unable to obtain a travel document for the alien. (See ICE Report, April 2016) OGR Committee Members questioned Saldaña on what her department has done to push these countries to take back these criminals. She responded that it was the State’s Department’s prerogative. In response, Chairman Chaffetz requested Saldaña to provide documentation regarding the notifications of non-cooperation. (See Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, Apr. 28, 2016)
After Saldaña’s testimony, the families of Sarah Root and Casey Chadwick testified. Their heart wrenching statements blamed the Obama administration for not doing its job saying if it had, their loved ones would still be here. (Id.)
While the Obama administration claims their top priority is public safety and they are focused on removing criminal aliens, the numbers belie their statement. In fact, the Obama administration has taken steps to significantly limit the number of illegal aliens they are willing to enforce the law against. In 2014, President Obama’s Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson scrapped the effective Secure Communities Program and announced it was implementing the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) which would allow many criminal aliens to remain in the United States. (See FAIR’s Press Release, Aug. 2015) PEP places a priority on the apprehension, detention, and removal of illegal aliens with felony records, significant misdemeanor convictions, gang ties, and those who pose terrorist threats. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Nov. 24, 2014) However, ICE may refuse to take custody of illegal aliens from state and local law enforcement when such aliens exhibit criminal behavior, but have not been convicted of a felony and most misdemeanors. (Id.)
The Obama administration’s failed enforcement priorities are clearly reflected in the number of criminal aliens arrested. In 2015, ICE made 119,772 arrests compared to the 232,287 arrests made in 2013. (See Center for Immigration Studies, Apr. 27, 2016)
Military Amnesty Defeated Again in Defense Bill
Yet again, pro-amnesty Members of Congress tried to hijack the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the must-pass bill that funds the military, to create a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens. During a late night House Armed Services Committee markup of the NDAA, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) offered an amendment that would allow Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients to enlist in the military. While advocating for his amendment, Gallego absurdly said that calling his amendment “backdoor amnesty” is “nonsense.” (See The Hill, Apr. 27, 2016) True immigration reformer Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) dismissed Gallego’s claims, noted that all “recruitment and reenlistment needs are being met,” and said the amendment would result in Americans getting “pink slips.” (Id.) Fortunately, the amendment never received a vote.
This was the second straight year Rep. Gallego tried to include amnesty in the NDAA. Last year, Gallego introduced an amendment that declares the Secretary of Defense should authorize (known as a sense of Congress amendment) DACA recipients to enlist in the military. The Armed Services Committee adopted that amendment in the middle of the night because six Republicans joined all committee Democrats. (See FAIR Legislative Update, May 12, 2015) In response, Rep. Brooks led an effort to get the language removed on the House floor. The Brooks amendment passed 221-202, with 20 Republicans joining all Democrats in opposition. (See FAIR Legislative Update, May 19, 2015)
In addition to Gallego, Rep. Marc Veasey (D-TX) also tried to get amnesty included during this year’s NDAA markup. Veasey’s amendment instructed the Defense Secretary to study the impact of allowing DACA illegal aliens to enroll at the military service academies. Again, Rep. Brooks led the charge in opposing the amendment. “We need to focus on Americans who want to serve our country,” Brooks declared. (See The Hill, Apr. 27, 2016) “My focus is on the desire to turn away as few Americans as possible who want to serve in the United States military.” (Id.) The amendment failed by voice vote.
On the other hand, the committee did incorporate one positive immigration amendment to the NDAA. Congressman Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) successfully had his amendment prohibiting the housing of unaccompanied alien minors (UAMs) on military bases added to the bill. This amendment is necessary because the Obama administration began housing UAMs on military bases months ago because the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is overwhelmed by the surge and unable to handle the numbers at HHS facilities. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Jan. 12, 2016)
Number of UAMs and Family Units Apprehended Along Southwest Border Increases Sharply
The latest statistics from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reveal yet another significant increase in the number of unaccompanied alien minors (UAMs) and family units crossing the southwest border. The statistics, released last week, show that 4,240 UAMs — many coming from Central America — were apprehended crossing the southwest border in March, almost double the number from March 2015. (Los Angeles Times, Apr. 24, 2016) Additionally, some 4,452 family units were apprehended during the same time period — nearly triple the number from March 2015. (Id.)
In March, Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson touted a series of immigration “raids,” claiming that they tamped down migration during the winter months. (Id.) However, the raids only resulted in the detention of several hundred Central American UAMs and family units, hardly enough to be a significant deterrent of migration. (Id.) Further, illegal crossings on the southern border usually decrease in winter months. (Id.) When compared to the previous year, this year’s numbers actually increased. (Id.)
In a statement, a DHS official claimed that the agency “continues to closely monitor current migration trends and is working aggressively to address underlying causes and deter future increases in unauthorized migration.” (Id.) However, the Obama administration has repeatedly refused to actually address the underlying causes of migration from Central America, notably the fact that UAMs and family units who cross the border illegally know they will get to stay in the U.S. once they arrive. Once Central American UAMs and family units are apprehended at the border, they receive papers setting court dates and are then released into the U.S. (FAIR Legislative Update, Dec. 1, 2015) These documents are known as “notices to appear,” but illegal aliens refer to them as “permisos,” or free passes, because they give permission to stay in the country while they await their appearance in already backlogged immigration courts. (Id.) Testifying before a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing late last year, Chris Cabrera of the National Border Patrol Council stated that “[these documents] are now known as the ‘notice to disappear’ — 80 percent, 90 percent of those folks will not show up for that hearing.” (See Cabrera Testimony, Oct. 21, 2015; FAIR Legislative Update, Oct. 27, 2015) The decisive solution to the crisis at the border, according to Cabrera, is for illegal border crossers to be “detained, adjudicated, and repatriated.” (Cabrera Testimony, Oct. 21, 2015)
Southern Governors Amp Up Immigration Enforcement Efforts
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal (R) and Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam (R) signed legislation last week to strengthen immigration enforcement efforts at the state level. The measures addressed requirements relating to lawful employment verification, sanctuary policies that impede the enforcement of immigration law, and the verification process state agencies must take to ensure that illegal aliens do not receive public benefits. (SB 269; SB 1965/HB 1830)
Georgia Governor Deal approved Senate Bill (SB) 269 to strengthen the state’s pro-immigration enforcement laws. Georgia law already requires all public and private employers with more than 10 employees to participate in the federal E-Verify employment eligibility authorization program. (O.C.G.A. § 13-10-91) Moreover, Georgia requires state and local governments to use the federal Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) system to verify the lawful presence of individuals before administering public benefits. (O.C.G.A. § 50-36-1) To enforce these provisions, Georgia law requires agencies to submit annual compliance reports as a condition to receive state funding. Additionally, Georgia law also takes the critical step of prohibiting sanctuary policies by prohibiting jurisdictions from restricting its employees from reporting immigration status information. (O.C.G.A. § 36-80-23)
SB 269 strengthens these current laws in two key ways. First, the bill adds Georgia’s anti-sanctuary provisions to the list items for which local governments must issue annual compliance reports. (SB 269 § 2) Second, it amends current law by asserting that the state shall require certification as proof of compliance to receive funding. (SB 269 § 1) SB 269 ensures that jurisdictions in Georgia that refuse to comply with state law prohibiting sanctuary policies, requiring E-Verify, and directing the use of the SAVE system, would lose state funding.
In Tennessee, Governor Haslam approved a measure to improve the state’s E-Verify requirements. Specifically, SB 1965/HB 1830 increases the number of employers required by state law to use E-Verify to all employers with 50 or more employees, adds a $500 civil penalty for each day of noncompliance, and eliminates a loophole in state law that allowed employers to avoid using E-Verify as long as they retained certain copies of employee documentation. (SB 1965/HB 1830; Amendment to SB 1965 § 7)
The passage of Georgia SB 269 and Tennessee SB 1965/HB 1830 mark a victory for true immigration reformers in the South. Legislation in these states provide a model for common sense strategies states can take to discourage illegal immigration to their regions by eliminating incentives that serve as a magnet for illegal immigration.