Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Sarah Saldaña struggled to explain the reasons behind the Obama administration’s release of thousands of criminal immigrants when pressed by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) Tuesday during a House Judiciary Committee hearing.
In Fiscal Year 2014, ICE released 30,558 convicted criminal immigrants, convicted of 79,059 crimes, allowing them to walk free in the U.S.
“One-quarter of these 30,000 criminal aliens had been convicted of level one crimes, such as murder, rape, and sexual abuse of a minor. of those 30,000, only 8 percent were Zadvydas cases,” Smith said referring to the Supreme Court case that prevents the indefinite detention of certain immigrants.
“Thousands could have been deported. Why did you — why did the administration intentionally endanger the lives of innocent Americans by releasing thousands of criminal aliens into our neighborhoods?” he asked.
Saldaña responded that such releases are “an area of great concern for me.”
The ICE director pointed to the courts and the the Zadvydas case as reasons.
“Why we are moving forward as we are. We do not have a policy, our decisions, whether they’re detention decisions, bond decisions, release decisions are governed by several things and often involve the courts. As you know, and I think the the chairman noted, about half, in 2014, of the releases were, as a result of Zadvydas, and which requires us to release people,” Saldaña said.
Smith responded that Saldaña had not contradicted his initial argument that the Obama administration is “intentionally releasing thousands” of convicted immigrant criminals back into the U.S.
“Why are you doing this to the American people?” Smith asked. “You know their recidivism rate is high. You know these individuals are going to be convicted of other crimes. Why are you doing the this to the American people?”
Saldaña reponded, “If I may answer, sir. If I may complete my answer. What I am saying is again let’s make sure we’re comparing apples to apples. We’re talking about 55 percent of those having been ICE discretionary decisions. Which I think is the heart of your concern.”
Smith reiterated his question. Even with that concession, he said, there remain “thousands of people that should be deported, in my opinion, that are not being deported that are endangering innocent Americans. Again, why are you doing this?”
Saldaña argued due process was a reason and said that ICE cannot deport anyone without a court order.
“Right and if you sought that order you could deport thousands of these individuals and you’re not trying to do it. Again, why not?” Smith asked.
The ICE director further pointed to the release of criminals from jail once they have completed their sentence.
“You know the criminal justice system releases murderers, rapists, sexual assaulters every day when a federal judge decides, you know, this person does not present a flight risk or a safe — a danger to the community. That’s the same considerations the law and the regulations,” she said.
The Texas Republican, however, responded that with immigrants it remains up to the government’s discretion as to whether they remain.
“The law allows us to deport the individuals if you want to, director, you are not giving the American people a good answer,” Smith said. “I hope you will be come back with a better answer in the future.”