Immigration and Customs Enforcement canceled deportation requests for three convicted child sex offenders and was about to release them into communities until Texas law enforcement officials intervened and forced a reversal, two ranking Republicans charged in a letter Wednesday demanding answers from the agency’s chief.
Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, the top Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said the near-releases were part of new guidance ordering ICE staff to limit whom they try to deport to only the most serious of national security or public safety cases.
That puts drunken drivers and potential gang members in the clear, the lawmakers said in the letter.
“These reckless changes — allowing criminal aliens to remain in our communities — place Americans at risk and will undoubtedly lead to many preventable crimes,” they wrote in a letter Wednesday to acting ICE Director Tae Johnson.
They said the moves fundamentally change ICE from an agency tasked with pursuing illegal immigrants to one that’s largely avoiding them.
President Biden’s attempt to make good on his campaign promise of a 100-day pause on almost all deportations has been blocked by a federal judge, but ICE has issued new internal rules that effectively put most migrants off-limits by declaring them lower priorities.
While they could still be removed in theory, under the new system going after them requires approval from ICE headquarters in Washington, and sources tell The Washington Times that approval has been difficult to get.
The guidance also is spawning confusion, the two Republican lawmakers said, pointing to the three Texas cases involving “three dangerous convicted sex offenders in Texas who preyed on children.”
“Those dangerous child sex offenders were almost released into the community despite being enumerated priorities under the memorandum, and it appears that ICE only relented when alarmed Texas law enforcement officials intervened,” they said.
In a meeting with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, ICE officers in Texas last week were told that new, less restrictive guidance is coming soon, The Washington Times has learned.
In the meantime, though, deportations are being put off.
Texas officials told the Associated Press that ICE had canceled more than two dozen “detainers” — requests that a migrant be transferred to ICE pending deportation — on convicted criminals in recent weeks.
Most were convicted of drunken-driving or drug charges, but the three sex crimes involved two cases of sexual assault on a teenager and one case of indecency with a child, the wire service reported.
In addition to the Texas cases, ICE also postponed a round of arrests of convicted sex crimes offenders scheduled under Operation Talon.
The two Republican lawmakers said they were especially disturbed by the new guidance on drunken drivers.
“DUIs in particular are especially insidious offenses, killing thousands of people in the United States every year and injuring hundreds of thousands,” they said. “Tragically, there are many instances in which Americans have died due to an illegal immigrant driving under the influence of alcohol. These deaths could have been avoided had our immigration laws been enforced.”
The GOP lawmakers said the guidance appears to protect potential gang members by making those with gang tattoos or other “loose affiliation” with gangs non-priorities.
In their letter, they asked for statistics on how many deportable migrants have been targeted in the past under the gang tattoo and DUI categories, and for any justification ICE has given for the policy changes.
Asked about the new priorities this month, the White House has said it doesn’t consider DUIs a pressing reason for deportation, but rather something to be handled by local prosecutors.
“Nobody is saying that DUIs or assault are acceptable behavior,” presidential spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. “And those arrested for such activities should be tried and sentenced as appropriate by local law enforcement. But we’re talking about the prioritization of who is going to be deported from the country.”
The differences between the Trump and Biden administrations are playing out on immigration more than any other issue.
Where the Trump team removed limits on ICE deportation officers, Mr. Biden promised his supporters he would shackle the agency as much as possible.
The Times has learned that a full reorganization of ICE’s deportation branch is in the works. For now, though, the agency is imposing severe limits on whom the deportation officers can target.