Congress to subpoena DHS over immigrants’ records
Texas lawmaker says information is being hidden
WASHINGTON— A House subcommittee Wednesday authorized the issuance of a subpoena to the Department of Homeland Security for data about undocumented immigrants with criminal records who have been released after their arrests.
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the full House Judiciary committee, plans to issue the subpoena this week, aides said.
Smith has said he wants to know what has happened to as many as 300,000 possibly undocumented immigrants who were arrested by local law enforcement agencies but may have then been released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
“Why does DHS want to hide this information?” Smith asked Wednesday. “Will (it) show that illegal immigrants intentionally released by ICE have committed crimes that could have been prevented?”
The subcommittee vote authorizing the subpoena split on party lines, with seven Republicans voting for it and four Democrats voting against it.
The Democrats argued that a subpoena aimed at Homeland Security was aimed at the wrong target. Democrats argued that the FBI holds the arrest information and until it lets Homeland Security release this “sensitive” information there is nothing DHS could do.
“It is FBI that is refusing to cooperate,” said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich.
Democrats said the committee should instead consider negotiating with the department to get the information.
According to an ICE website, local governments participating in an immigration-enforcement program known as Secure Communities use “an already-existing federal information-sharing partnership between ICE and FBI that helps to identify criminal aliens.”
Chris Ortman, a DHS spokesman, said in a statement that the department is “fully cooperating with the committee and is in the process of gathering information responsive to the committee’s inquiry.”
Smith first requested the information from the department in August after seeing a Congressional Research Service report that said Secure Communities identified about 300,000 people who had been arrested in the first half of fiscal 2011 as having prior criminal records and possibly being undocumented immigrants. But the report went on to say that not all of those people were held by ICE.
A department official said that some of those 300,000 could have been legal immigrants. But Smith wants to know what crimes those released were convicted of, and why they are not in an immigration official’s custody.
The Obama administration has repeatedly said it has changed its priorities in going after undocumented immigrants, focusing now on those who have a serious criminal record.
Republicans have said that such a policy puts Americans in danger by running the risk that some undocumented immigrants with criminal records may go free.
“This is not a policy that can be shown to jeopardize the American public or the safety of the American public,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said Wednesday.