The Homeland Security Department can’t yet say how many illegal immigrants it’s releasing under President Obama’s prosecutorial discretion policies, and sometimes agents cut loose illegal immigrants without ever knowing their full criminal history, the department’s inspector general said in a new report Wednesday.
John Roth, the inspector general, said that immigration authorities are increasingly making decisions not to deport people based on the executive branch’s powers of discretion, but without more data about those choices, the department can’t figure out if it’s making the right calls.
“As a result, DHS may not be using government funds as efficiently as possible and may be missing opportunities to strengthen its ability to remove aliens who pose a threat to national security and public safety,” Mr. Roth said.
Homeland Security officials agreed in general — though they said they’d already been working hard to collect and analyze the kinds of data the inspector general was talking about, and to go even further that Mr. Roth suggested. The department said it already has agents and officers ask the questions, and the challenge is to centralize the data so it can be examined.
Officials hope to be able to report by the end of the year on how they’re tailoring enforcement efforts to meet the president’s priorities.
“We’d already identified that as an issue and we need to be able to do quite a bit more than that, frankly,” a senior official told The Washington Times. “We want to be able to account for the decisions that have been made big picture in terms of apprehensions, removal, detention, those types of things.”
Mr. Obama has built his deportation policies, including his tentative “deferred action” amnesties, on the prosecutorial discretion power, which is a long-standing ability for the executive branch to decide how to use scarce enforcement resources.
In immigration, the president and his top aides have announced policies designed to carve illegal immigrants into different categories based on how eager the administration is to deport them, with major criminals and national security risks at the top, less serious criminals and recent illegal immigrants second, and those with lesser immigration violations third. Those deemed lower priorities are generally to be let go, so authorities can focus on the higher-level offenders.
Mr. Roth, the inspector general, said the department needs to do a better job of figuring out and reporting who falls into which categories, so officials can decide what’s working and what’s not. Some agencies had some data, but it wasn’t complete, Mr. Roth said.
One hurdle has been that discretion can be exercised at so many points along the process: when an officer or agent encounters an illegal immigrant, when they decide whether to detain them, or even after a judge orders someone removed.
Department officials say they’re well on the way toward having better data on those situations.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has made better transparency and data a hallmark of his tenure, and lawmakers on Capitol Hill have said they have noticed a difference in terms of speed and completeness of answers they’re getting.
In his report Wednesday Mr. Roth went beyond the data to also say he’d heard from ICE agents that they don’t always have the information they believe they need to make decisions on whom to release. That could mean agents are releasing people with the sorts of crimes that should have gotten them deported even under Mr. Obama’s new priorities.
“Not only are President Obama’s unilaterally-created immigration policies and programs unconstitutional, their implementation has proved to needlessly place Americans and our country at risk,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, Virginia Republican. “The American people are left in the dark about the effects of the administration’s immigration policies and dangerous criminal aliens who have committed a crime in their home country may be able to find amnesty in the United States.”
But Homeland Security officials said agents and officers are always supposed to get what they need before deciding to cut someone loose.
“A decision should not be made without complete information,” an official said.