Department of Homeland Security Sec. Jeh Johnson was in the hot seat Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee, answering to the release of thousands of criminal aliens back into the United States.
“The end result of DHS’s practices is that the American people have lost all confidence in this Administration’s willingness to enforce our current immigration laws or use any enhanced enforcement tools that Congress may give it,” House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte said at the outset of Thursday’s hearing, highlighting the release of criminal immigrants. “This in turn has made it exceedingly difficult for Congress to fix our broken immigration system.”
Goodlatte went on to point out that there are currently 858,779 non-detained immigrants with final orders of removal who have not been removed and that the “vast majority” have absconded and become fugitives.
“Chairman, you are correct that there are a large number of undocumented in the country who are fugitives who had absconded after final orders of removal,” Johnson conceded. “I have heard the same numbers.”
Goodlatte highlighted the recent revelation that last year ICE released 36,007 criminal aliens in removal proceedings, convicted of crimes such as homicide, assault, kidnapping, and drunk driving. He also noted that ICE said many were released as a discretionary matter.
“I myself would like a deeper understanding of this issue. I have your letter on the subject and responded yesterday, I don’t know whether you have received the response yet,” Johnson said.
The DHS secretary continued, saying that his current understanding is that a number of the FY 2013 releases “were as a result of orders from an immigration judge or by immigration officer acting pursuant to, consistent with Supreme Court precedent and other law.”
“Certainly there is an amount of judgment that goes into that so someone’s release, they are released pursuant to the conditions that are intended to guarantee their return,” he continued. “But I look at the same list you see and I see some pretty serious criminal convictions on that list including homicide and other things, and so I want a deeper understanding of this issue myself to ensure we are doing everything we should be doing to ensure public safety in this process.”
Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) added on, slamming the Obama administration for what could be considered “the worst prison break in American history, except it was sanctioned by the president and perpetrated by our own immigration officials” and ran through a list of what he said was the administration’s dilution of immigration law.
“If the president cannot be trusted to enforce current immigration laws how can he be trusted to enforce future immigration laws?” Smith asked rhetorically.
When Smith asked if Johnson could provide more details about the circumstances of the homicides committed by certain released immigrants, the DHS secretary said that he was not able at the time but will when he has such information.
“I’m interested in understanding further some of these more serious cases and I will share that information with you,” Johnson said.
Texas Republican Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) pressed Johnson on the current status of the criminal immigrants — legal and illegal — released. to which Johnson responded that it really depends on each immigrant’s circumstance.
“If you’re released under some conditions of a crime, then that obviously changes the circumstances and you know somebody needs to reevaluate whether or not you should be running around on the streets,” Johnson said.
Johnson was additionally unable to respond to Poe’s and Florida Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL)’ questions pertaining to whether DHS has even requested that the State Department stop issuing visas to countries that do not take back their citizens the U.S. is trying to deport, but promised the committee he would provide more information about the last time the department requested such restrictions.
Virginia Republican Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) pushed Johnson for additional information about how many of the more than 36,000 criminal immigrants released were members of criminal gangs. Johnson was unable to offer how many but said he suspects that the department does probe those immigrants convicted of crimes about whether they are in gangs.