The illegal immigrant accused of killing a former “America’s Next Top Model” contestant and three others in a drug-fueled spree was a known gang member with drug arrests on his record at the time he was approved for President Obama’s amnesty for Dreamers, a top lawmaker revealed Tuesday.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services now acknowledges that it bungled the case two years ago when it approved the man for amnesty. The agency said it has revoked his status — a month after he was arrested and charged with murder in connection with four deaths in North Carolina.
“Based on standard procedures and processes in place at the time, the [deferred action] request and related employment authorization should not have been approved,” USCIS Director Leon Rodriguez said about his agency’s catastrophic error in approving Emmanuel Jesus Rangel-Hernandez.
The case has become a black eye on Mr. Obama’s 2012 amnesty for Dreamers, known in governmentspeak as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which has approved more than 600,000 applications.
Mr. Obama insisted that he could administer his program to keep mostly law-abiding illegal immigrants in the U.S. without any fear of deportation while weeding out serious criminals who he said should be deported.
But information Mr. Rodriguez submitted last week to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, and North Carolina’s two U.S. senators, also Republicans, suggests that gang members besides Mr. Rangel-Hernandez have been granted approval under the deportation amnesty.
USCIS said at least 20 others who were approved for amnesty under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals had suspected gang ties listed in the key federal database.
Homeland Security officials specifically identified gang ties as a reason for Dreamers to be disqualified from amnesty.
Mr. Grassley said the agency either missed Mr. Rangel-Hernandez’s gang ties because it didn’t check its own databases, or else the agency knew and approved Mr. Rangel-Hernandez anyway.
“It’s no secret that USCIS staff is under intense pressure to approve every DACA application that comes across their desk, and based on this information, it’s clear that adequate protocols are not in place to protect public safety,” Mr. Grassley said. “The fact is that this tragedy could have been avoided if the agency had a zero-tolerance policy with regard to criminal aliens and gang members.”
Mr. Rodriguez’s letter did not say which of those occurred, and the agency didn’t immediately respond to follow-up questions about the letter — including whether anyone has been disciplined for the error.
He said he couldn’t estimate how many illegal immigrants were denied amnesty because of gang ties because his agency doesn’t track that information.
Mr. Rodriguez did say he has put his officers through retraining in light of the case, making sure officers know how to use the background check database and are aware of when they are supposed to deny applications based on gang connections.
Mr. Rangel-Hernandez’s amnesty has been revoked, though he remains in the U.S. awaiting trial on the murder charges, the director said.
Police have accused Mr. Rangel-Hernandez of killing Mirjana Puhar, a contestant last year on the “Top Model” program, and three others in two shootings in North Carolina this year.
Puhar also was an immigrant. She was born in Serbia but fled with her family at age 5 after war broke out, The Charlotte Observer reported.
Mr. Rangel-Hernandez was facing deportation at the time the administration approved him for the amnesty on Aug. 26, 2013, granting him two-year legal status and a work permit. After Mr. Rangel-Hernandez was granted the amnesty, an immigration judge dismissed the deportation case and allowed him to stay in the U.S.
The 2012 amnesty for Dreamers — young adults considered the most sympathetic figures in the immigration debate — is still in effect. But a federal judge has halted Mr. Obama’s expanded amnesty, announced in November, which applies to illegal immigrant parents of children who are U.S. citizens.
As many as 5 million illegal immigrants could qualify for the expanded amnesty.
Mr. Obama’s attorneys have filed court papers asking for the amnesty to be restarted. An appeals court last week heard oral arguments on the request, with judges paying particular attention to how thoroughly USCIS was conducting background checks.
The revelations this week could dent the administration’s case.
According to the immigration agency, several hundred people have had their amnesty revoked for gang ties: 28 in 2013, 131 in 2014 and 123 so far this year.
Sen. Thom Tillis, North Carolina Republican, insisted that the agency start performing better background checks. Sen. Richard Burr, the state’s other Republican senator, called the agency’s acknowledgment that it approved Mr. Rangel-Hernandez “chilling” and said it proved that the administration wasn’t following through on its vow to protect public safety.