The Chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees sounded a tone of outrage this week at an Obama administration policy that has allowed for the release of at least three criminal aliens charged with drunk driving and implicated in the murder and severe injury of Americans this year.
“This careless policy is a clear and unmistakable message to the American people that this Administration has decided that their safety and security are far less important than ensuring that illegally present aliens with no regard for the law will remain in this country without any legal consequences whatsoever,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) wrote in a blistering letter Wednesday to Department of Homeland Sec. Jeh Johnson.
The Chairmen’s expressed anger comes in the wake of two separate incidents in which ICE either released or refused to detain deportable aliens charged with drunk driving crimes that injured and killed bystanders and one incident in which ICE released an illegal immigrant convicted of drunk driving who went on to allegedly commit murder.
At issue is DHS’ selective immigration enforcement policies — laid out in a Johnson memo offered in conjunction with President Obama’s 2014 executive amnesty — in which the Obama administration prioritizes removal for illegal immigrants only if they have been convicted of felonies, are a threat to national security, have multiple misdemeanors, or are recent border crossers.
“Under that memorandum, ICE may refuse to take custody of dangerous aliens from state and local law enforcement agencies when such aliens exhibit criminal behavior, but have not been convicted of a felony and most misdemeanors,” Goodlatte and Grassley wrote, noting that the mere fact that an alien is illegally present should be enough for ICE to take custody.
Due to the Obama administration’s high bar to enforce immigration law, the chairman say, at least two women are dead, one is in a coma, and another is injured.
They pointed to ICE’s 2013 release of convicted drunk driver and illegal immigrant Esmid Valentine Pedraza who was later arrested in February for the murder of his girlfriend Stacey Aguilar. Despite the fact that ICE says Pedraza “had already been on a Priority 2 list for recent illegal entrants,” he was released from custody.
“In addition, ICE’s only response to this terrible crime is to pledge that it will review Pedraza for “possible” enforcement action,” the lawmakers wrote. “Such a response is wholly unacceptable. ICE completely failed its most basic duty to protect the public – and more specifically, Stacey Aguilar – by releasing this criminal alien from custody and thereby enabling him to allegedly commit this heinous crime.”
The Chairmen further pointed to the the release of Jose Munoz Aguilar in February following his arrest for drunk driving, after he hit a car occupied by Chelsea Hogue and Meghan Lake. Lake was injured and Hogue is in a coma.
“According to ICE, Aguilar was released because he ‘had no significant misdemeanor or felony conviction record,’ and as such, ‘[h]e does not meet ICE enforcement priorities,’” they wrote.
Finally, the Chairmen pointed to the death of Sarah Root, whose car was struck and she was killed by Eswin Mejia, an illegal immigrant, who was drag racing and drunk at the time. ICE denied a request from local authorities to take custody of Mejia so, after posing bail, Mejia absconded and remains at large.
“He is now a fugitive from justice,” the lawmakers wrote. “An ICE spokesman stated that ICE did not lodge a detainer on Mejia because his arrest for felony motor vehicle homicide ‘did not meet ICE’s enforcement priorities.’”
According to Goodlatte and Grassley, ICE’s actions in these cases demonstrate “a complete abandonment of ICE’s law enforcement mission.”
“On January 4, 2016, you stated that the enforcement priorities contained in your November 20, 2014, memorandum ‘focus [DHS] enforcement resources on convicted criminals and threats to public safety,’” they recalled.
“From that statement, you recognize that dangerous aliens who are illegally present need not be convicted of a crime to be arrested by ICE,” Goodlatte and Grassley continued. “Astonishingly, in all of these tragic cases, ICE determined that it was not an important federal interest to protect the public by detaining these dangerous individuals, so that they will not victimize others.”
The pair requested a wealth of additional information about each criminal alien, including data about past encounters with law enforcement, their immigration histories, and if DHS still considers the three men “not enforcement priorities.”