House subcommittee subpoenas immigration records

Story highlights

  • Panel seeks names of immigrants who were arrested but not in federal custody
  • Republicans accuse agency of hiding names of those accused of "low-level" crimes
  • Homeland Security officials refute lawmakers' claims
A House subcommittee subpoenaed the Department of Homeland Security on Friday for the names of tens of thousands of illegal immigrants who were arrested by local authorities during the past three years but whom federal immigration officials declined to take into custody.
Republican lawmakers said that under the Secure Communities program, Homeland Security identified 630,000 inmates nationwide as illegal immigrants but declined to take custody of 300,000 accused of "low-level" crimes. The Republicans accused the agency of hiding the names of those immigrants, perhaps to conceal any crimes they may have committed after their release.
Homeland Security officials said Friday that they would release the requested information "with or without a subpoena." And in recent letters to the the House Judiciary Committee, they contested the Republicans' conclusions about the number of immigrants not detained, saying some may still be in jail on criminal charges.
They also contested the conclusion that the current policies are making the nation more dangerous, saying the agency is deporting record numbers of illegal immigrants with criminal records.
And Homeland Security said it does not keep statistics on crimes committed by released immigrants.
Under the Secure Communities program, nearly 1,600 local and state jurisdictions send fingerprint information on inmates to the agency's Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which determines whether the detainees are illegally in the United States.
During a 2.5-year period ending in April, ICE had 536,148 alien "matches" but took custody of only 226,694, according to Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Smith said Homeland Security officials told him they do seek the custody of illegal immigrants accused of committing "low-level" crimes.
Smith has sought information about people released under the Secure Communities program, and in a statement Thursday, he said Homeland Security has "stonewalled" his request.
"The American people have a right to know what crimes 300,000 immigrants have committed after ICE intentionally chose not to detain them," Smith said. "Are administration officials afraid that the information will show that illegal immigrants intentionally released by ICE have committed crimes that could have been prevented? Why else would they hide the information?"
He also said Homeland Security has declined to explain what crimes are considered "low-level."
In its subpoena, the House Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Reform is seeking the names, alien registration numbers and other information on all illegal immigrants whom ICE was notified about between November 1, 2008, and October 31, 2011, but whom ICE did not detain. It also asks for information about immigrants whom ICE declined to deport.
In a recent letter to the Judiciary Committee, Homeland Security officials said that not every alien "hit" or "match" relates to a deportable person. For instance, a naturalized citizen may generate a hit, or a single individual can generate multiple hits, Assistant Secretary Nelson Peacock wrote in a letter to Smith.
"As a result, the number of matches generated through Secure Communities does not correspond to the number of individuals identified through Secure Communities," he wrote.
Homeland Security spokesman Matthew Chandler said the department would provide information in its custody to the committee. "During numerous conversations over the past week, including this morning, DHS stated to the committee it will provide the data requested with or without a subpoena," he said in a statement.
"ICE's enforcement approach is enhancing public safety in communities around the country," he said.
"DHS has implemented immigration enforcement priorities that focus limited resources on convicted criminals, repeat immigration law violators, fugitives and recent entrants. Through these priorities, ICE removed a record 216,000 criminal aliens in FY 2011, an 89% increase over FY2008."
Several states have sought to opt out of the Secure Communities program, arguing that the deportation of illegal immigrants, particularly those accused of minor crimes, is making immigrant communities distrustful of law enforcement and less willing to report crimes.
Lake County, Illinois, Sheriff Mark Curran, a critic of the program who was profiled on a recent "Frontline" documentary, said privacy laws are compounding the problem. Because the program restricts information on deportations, rumors abound in immigrant communities when someone is deported, he said, even if for a legitimate reason.