By Jordy Yager - 07/31/12 04:31 PM EDT
The Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday blasted President Obama for his new immigration policy in the wake of a recent report revealing thousands of illegal aliens committed crimes after being arrested and released.
The report, issued by the independent Congressional Research Service (CRS), found that 15 percent — 7,283 of 46,796 — of the people who the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency determined were in the country illegally had committed crimes or civil violations after the government opted not to deport or detain them.
The most severe crimes committed by illegal immigrants who were released over a nearly three-year period included 19 murders, 142 sex crimes, and 46 instances of grand theft or grand larceny.
A spokeswoman for ICE pointed to the nearly 400,000 illegal immigrants the administration removed last fiscal year and said many of those cited in the CRS report were released by local law enforcement officials before ICE could take any action.
“Many of the individuals cited in the report were not removable under current law or were released by local officials before ICE could respond,” said ICE’s press secretary Barbara Gonzalez.
“In FY 2011, ICE removed more than 396,000 individuals — the largest number in the agency's history. Approximately 55 percent of those removed were convicted criminals — an 89 percent increase in the removal of criminals since the previous administration.”
The CRS report used data from the Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security, ICE, and the FBI. It cross-referenced people flagged for being in the country illegally by using ICE’s Secure Communities program, which connects local law enforcement arrests to the federal immigration database.
The Obama administration announced last year a new deferred prosecutorial system that allows federal law enforcement and immigration officials to prioritize the removal of illegal immigrants who have committed serious or violent crimes over those who are otherwise law abiding.
The administration and many congressional Democrats have argued that with limited government resources and manpower, officials need to focus attention on the people in the country illegally who would do the most harm to legal citizens.
“Because ICE is congressionally funded to remove a limited number of individuals each year, the agency prioritizes our enforcement efforts on individuals whose removal has the biggest impact on public safety, including immigrants convicted of crimes, violent criminals, felons, and repeat immigration law offenders,” said Gonzalez.
But Smith contends that the policy endangers the safety of U.S. citizens and points to the CRS report as evidence.
“The Obama administration could have prevented these senseless crimes by enforcing our immigration laws,” Smith said. “But President Obama continues to further his anti-enforcement agenda while innocent Americans suffer the consequences.”
The report does not detail whether the illegal immigrants who were later arrested for committing crimes were then deported or imprisoned.
This story was updated at 1:55 p.m. to include a response from ICE.