A tense exchange erupted in fireworks Wednesday between Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement chief Sarah Saldana during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing focused on the Obama administration’s immigration enforcement policies.
In a lengthy exchange Cruz, a Republican presidential candidate, opened his questioning of the ICE director by highlighting the criminal releases made by the Obama administration and pressed Saldana on 918,369 non-detained illegal immigrants in the U.S. that have been ordered removed but remain in the U.S.
Saldana argued that there are “obstacles” to removing illegal immigrants including travel documents and final orders of removal — which Cruz argued was irrelevant to the group he highlighted as they already have final orders.
“We are removing every one we can under the law,” she said, arguing that ICE officials would not “turn their backs” on the deportation of a criminal alien that needed to be removed.
Cruz responded that her answer “consisted of non sequiturs.”
“I will tell you, I speak over and over again to ICE agents, to border patrol officers, who are demoralized, who are dispirited, by the political leadership of the obama administration that doesn’t let them do their jobs, over and over again,” he said.
The Texas lawmaker further pressed the ICE director on the 1,000 criminal aliens the Obama administration released in 2013 who went on to commit further crimes as well as the releases of 6,151 criminal aliens convicted of a sexual offense between FY 2009 and FY 2015. Saldana took issue with Cruz’s characterization of the releases.
“Sir, you missed that part of my testimony earlier, before your arrival here, I explained clearly that about two-thirds of the folks who have been released — you keep referring to the Obama administration releasing them — that is really a mischaracterization and is misleading to the public,” she said. “About two-thirds of those were either under the United States Supreme court decision which we cannot — we follow the law — and the Supreme Court.”
Cruz stopped her, pointing to executive amnesty as an example of the administration not following the law in regard to immigration.
“Excuse me a second. You said you follow the law. Help me understand then why President Obama has issued executive amnesty refusing to follow the law. Which one is it? Does the administration follow the law or if the president disagrees with the law, does he say he will ignore it?” Cruz asked.
Saldana said the pair disagree on the constitutionality of executive actions and pointed to the complexity of the issue as an impediment.
“Probably every illegal alien could be removed, but that’s 12 million people or 15 million, depending on what estimate you look at,” she said. “I don’t think anybody who thinks that we can go around rounding up people with a $6.5 billion budget, as grateful as I am for our budget, believes that we can go and do that under that budget.”
She added that “any criminal alien that has not been removed, I feel fairly confident there is a very good explanation that comes under this very statute that the senate and the house has left us with.”
Cruz highlighted the administration’s position on amnesty as the reason for the lack of deportations — arguing that Saldana’s job is to follow the law, not politics.
“You are charged with following the law. The law that Congress has actually passed, not the policy views of President Obama that contradicts the law. Now, you mentioned a minute ago that i.c.e. could deport the 12 million people here illegally. Why is it not doing so?” he asked.
Saldana pointed to the budget and lack of funding for the process, calling the idea “not practical” and “not smart.”
“Okay. It’s not smart to enforce federal law that requires those here illegally to be deported,” Cruz responded.
Saldana fired back, “You’re playing games with words, Senator Cruz and I’m trying to help the American public and this committee understand my job.”
Cruz responded, “You are not helping the American public by ignoring the law. Let me ask you a question, Ms. Saldana. You said it’s not very smart and it’s impractical to enforce the law.”
The Texas senator continued pointing out that the Clinton administration deported over 12 million people during his eight years in office, pressing Saldana on whether “is it the position of the Obama administration that the Bill Clinton administration was not very smart because it deported 12 million people?”
Saldana took issue with the question saying Cruz was misrepresenting her testimony responded and argued the issue is about making tough decisions in the face of limited resources.
“If the Clinton administration could enforce the laws and deport over 12 million people with a smaller budget than your budget, why is the obama administration unable or unwilling to enforce the law and do the same?” Cruz asked.
Saldana stressed that the administration “is enforcing” the law in “a smart way.”
Cruz further called on Saldana to answer for the murder of Kathryn Steinle, allegedly by a multiple deportee, illegal immigrant with a long rap sheet.
“I will say an administration that refuses to follow the law, that releases murderers, rapists, violent criminals, that has roughly 1 million illegal aliens subject to orders of deportation, and yet you say you can’t enforce the law, there is a reason the american people are so frustrated with law enforcement officials that are charged with protecting them, who refuse to do their duty,” Cruz responded.