- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Obama administration will comply with a subpoena seeking details on illegal immigrants it has come in contact with but failed to deport under its Secure Communities initiative, one of the program’s leaders told Congress on Wednesday.

House Republicans have been seeking the information as they try to evaluate how the administration is prioritizing which illegal immigrants it deems important enough to deport, and which ones it doesn’t feel rise to the level of concern.

“I am confident that we will supply the information you have requested,” Gary Mead, executive associate director for enforcement and removal operations at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told the House’s immigration subcommittee.

The Secure Communities program checks information on people arrested by state and local law enforcement officials against government databases to see whether any are immigrants eligible for deportation.

The program has drawn criticism from both sides - those who want a crackdown on illegal immigration say the Obama administration isn’t detaining all of the people who pop up as deportable when the checks are run; and immigrant-rights advocates who say it acts as a dragnet to catch illegal immigrants who don’t rise to the level of major criminals.

Advocates also say that the program is subject to racial profiling, which they said harms the program, and that Secure Communities has had a chilling effect on relations between local police and immigrant communities.

“Immigrants will continue to fear that contact with the police could lead to deportation, crimes will go unreported and criminals will remain free to prey on others,” Arturo Venegas Jr., the retired chief of police in Sacramento, Calif., told the panel.

The Obama administration has been trying to reorient enforcement inside the U.S. away from rank and file illegal immigrants to focus instead on more serious criminals. As part of that effort, it has issued guidance to ICE agents telling them to use discretion in deciding which illegal immigrants to pursue.

Still, the administration says even focusing on illegal immigrants with criminal records or multiple immigration law violations is enough to strain the system. In fiscal 2011, which ended Sept. 30, the administration deported nearly 400,000 aliens, and ICE says about 90 percent of them were in what it deemed priority categories. Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano has said 400,000 is about the limit ICE can deport in any year under the current level of funding.

Opponents of Secure Communities say it also has snared U.S. citizens. A report from a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley found that 3,600 citizens had been apprehended by ICE as of April 2011.

But others want to see the program unshackled from the boundaries the Obama administration has imposed. That’s one reason why Republicans have issued the subpoena for data on the approximately 300,000 immigrants ICE has flagged under Secure Communities but declined to detain for deportation.

“Sooner or later we will get it,” vowed Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, Texas Republican.

The subpoena gave a Nov. 10 deadline, but Mr. Smith said ICE didn’t turn over the information he was seeking by then.

The next legal step would be for the committee to vote to hold ICE in contempt of Congress, but that decision has yet to be made.

Mr. Mead said that ICE has the information Mr. Smith requested for about 70 percent of the people it declined to hold, but that they are still trying to figure out how to provide information that is held by the FBI and to track down missing information on some of the immigrants on the list.

Republicans on the subcommittee said there are some locales that, while required to submit data to the program, refuse to hold people until ICE can come and pick them up, instead releasing them into the community.

Mr. Mead said that’s not an issue for the Secure Communities program.

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