House Republicans are moving to subpoena a list of all immigrants whom the Obama administration has flagged under its secure communities program but failed to arrest for deportation, after the Homeland Security Department missed a congressionally imposed deadline to produce the information this week.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, said he wants the data so he can see who is among the 300,000 people the administration has deemed too low a priority to detain under new deportation guidelines. He has scheduled a meeting for Wednesday for the immigration subcommittee to vote to authorize the subpoena.
“Why would DHS want to keep this information from the committee?” Mr. Smith will say at the meeting, according to an advance copy of his statement. “If there is nothing to hide, why wouldn’t they provide Congress with these documents? Are administration officials concerned that the requested information will show that illegal and criminal immigrants intentionally released by ICE have gone on to commit more crimes?”
He first requested the information in August, and last week set an Oct. 31 deadline for turning it over. He said Homeland Security initially seemed prepared to cooperate, but the request became mired in recent weeks and this week he said the department told him some of the data belong to the FBI and can’t be turned over without that agency’s consent.
Late Tuesday, a spokesman for the department told The Washington Times, “DHS is fully cooperating with the committee and is in the process of gathering information responsive to the committee’s inquiry.” But he did not comment on what the holdup was.
Congressional subpoenas have been rare, even though Republicans took control of the House after the 2010 elections. This will be the first subpoena issued by the Judiciary Committee, and follows a subpoena that the Energy and Commerce Committee issued this year for documents related to Solyndra, the failed solar power company that received special attention from the Obama administration.
At root, the deportation dispute is about the way the Obama administration has been enforcing immigration laws.
While the Homeland Security Department has set records for total deportations, it has shifted its emphasis away from rank-and-file illegal immigrants and toward those with serious criminal records or repeat immigration-law violators. Of the nearly 400,000 people deported in fiscal year 2011, 216,000 had criminal records.
As a result of the shift, though, illegal immigrants who are working or going to school in the U.S. and not running afoul of other criminal laws are under less of a threat of deportation.
The Obama administration’s deportation policy relies heavily on Secure Communities, a program started under President George W. Bush but dramatically expanded by Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano. It takes names and fingerprints that federal, state and local jails send to the FBI and runs them through immigration databases to see who could be eligible for deportation.
A Congressional Research Service report issued late last month found that Secure Communities identified 318,308 foreigners potentially eligible for deportation in the first half of fiscal year 2011, and of those, 73,466 were arrested by immigration authorities.
That means Homeland Security declined to pursue immediate cases against more than 250,000 people who could have been eligible for deportation.
Mr. Smith wants to know who those people are, what crimes they were charged with and why they didn’t rise to the level of deportation.
Homeland Security officials have said that not all of the people who are flagged by Secure Communities are eligible for deportation, because some may have become naturalized citizens.
The Obama administration’s approach to deportation has roiled the national public debate, feeding on incidents like last year’s case in which a Catholic nun was killed in Prince William County by an illegal immigrant who was driving drunk. That driver had been charged with drunken driving twice before and had been put into deportation proceedings, though U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released him into the community and his attorneys said he had been authorized to work while he was going through the process.
The man pleaded guilty to multiple charges on Monday and faces up to 70 years in prison.
On the broader debate, a group of House Democrats is planning a trip to Alabama to protest that state’s new law cracking down on illegal immigrants.
“When it is considered a felony and a deportable offense for a mother without immigration papers to sign her U.S. citizen children up for a library card, clearly we have a national civil rights emergency,” said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat who has been critical of the Obama administration’s deportation policies and has led the push for legalization of illegal immigrants.
In the case of the deportation data, Mr. Smith had hoped to get a list of the criminal charges lodged against the aliens whom the administration has declined to hold. But he said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that handles deportations, told him it doesn’t track that data.
Instead, Mr. Smith asked for the names of the people.
He made his first request in August, and said officials at first seemed cooperative. But when the request became mired, he set the Oct. 31 deadline and delivered it directly to Ms. Napolitano at a hearing last week.
“I was told that the list was available, had to be cleared, and now suddenly, the list has apparently disappeared,” he told her.
She told Mr. Smith she would “look into that matter,” but her office failed to meet the Monday deadline.
Anticipating the deadlock, Mr. Smith on Friday sent notice that he would convene the Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee on Wednesday to authorize him to issue the subpoena.