Federal immigration officials selectively enforce the law and are dismissing the cases of hundreds of aliens who ought to be deported, according to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. He's leading a group of senators unhappy with the Department of Homeland Security for releasing immigrants detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement who haven't committed serious crimes.
In a letter sent to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, Cornyn and six other Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee say the dismissals are a result of a directive from ICE Director John T. Morton to staff attorneys ordering them to review and dismiss cases that do not involve Level 1 offenses—aggravated felonies or two or more felonies. The Houston Chronicle first reported the dismissals in August.
The accusations come just weeks after DHS touted its record level of alien removals during the 2010 fiscal year.
Cornyn accuses DHS of enforcing the law on criteria it “arbitrarily chose” and disregarding laws created by Congress. According to Cornyn’s office, dismissals in Houston alone increased by more than 700 percent —from 27 in July to 217 in August.
“The repercussions of this decision extend beyond removal proceedings, because it discourages officers from even initiating new removal proceedings if they believe the case ultimately will be dismissed based on the new directive,” says Cornyn. “Even more disturbing is the fact that your Department has chosen to dismiss cases against criminal aliens, including aliens who have committed crimes involving moral turpitude, crimes of violence, assault, theft, fraud, drug offenses, driving under the influence, and illegal entry.”
In a statement, DHS spokesman Matt Chandler said the accusations are inaccurate: “The [Obama] administration has fundamentally changed the way the federal government approaches immigration enforcement, doing more to keep criminal aliens who are threats to public safety — including murderers, rapists and child molesters — off our streets than ever before, issuing more financial sanctions to employers who knowingly and repeatedly violate immigration laws than during the entire previous administration, and conducting more overall removals than at any point in this nation’s history.”
Earlier this month, the DHS announced it removed more aliens in 2010 that ever before. More than 392,000 undocumented persons were deported, including more than 195,000 with criminal records, the agency claimed.
“The fiscal year 2010 statistics represent increases of more than 23,000 removals overall and 81,000 criminal removals compared to fiscal year 2008 — a more than 70 percent increase in removals of criminal aliens from the previous administration,” DHS said in a news release.
The dispute follows the recent announcement that Texas would implement the controversial Secure Communities program statewide. The initiative allows local law enforcement to compare the fingerprints of anyone arrested against those in a federal database to determine if the individual is removable under immigration laws.
A policy statement on the initiative details how ICE ranks the prosecution of criminal aliens. “Dangerous criminal aliens” are categorized as level 1 offenders and have been convicted of or charged with homicide, kidnapping, assault, robbery, sex offenses and narcotics crimes that carry a sentence of greater than one year. Level 2 offenses include property crimes and minor drug violations. Level 3 offenses include driving while intoxicated and public disturbances.
But several immigrant rights groups allege the government is actually removing offenders that do not fall under that category. Texas joined Secure Communities in 2008; through June 2010 it submitted 494,445 sets of fingerprints for tracing, leading to 10,837 aliens being arrested or booked into ICE custody. According to ICE statistics in June, 8,596 had been deported. Of those, just 2,113 — fewer than 25 percent — were convicted of a level 1 offense, compared to 5,147, or 60 percent, who were convicted or charged with level 2 offenses.
Cornyn and Sens. Jeff Sessions, R- Alabama, Jon Kyl, R-Arizona, Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Chuck Grassley R-Iowa, Lindsey Graham,, R-South Carolina and Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma have asked DHS for a report with a detailed list of cases that have been dismissed since Jan. 1 to be finished by Nov. 15.
Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.