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DHS document: 68,000 illegal immigrants with criminal convictions released in 2013
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials last year released 68,000 illegal immigrants with criminal convictions, undercutting Democratic claims that President Obama has strictly enforced immigration laws.
An internal Department of Homeland Security document compiling statistics on arrests and deportations in 2013 showed that ICE agents encountered 193,357 illegal immigrants with criminal convictions but issued charging documents for only 125,478. More than 67,800 were released.
The data came from an end-of-year "Weekly Departures and Detention Report."
The Center for Immigration Studies, a research group that favors stricter enforcement of immigration laws, estimates ICE agents released more than a third of illegal immigrants with criminal records they detained.
"ICE released 68,000 criminal aliens in 2013, or 35 percent of the criminal aliens encountered by officers. The vast majority of these releases occurred because of the Obama administration's prosecutorial discretion policies," Jessica Vaughn, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, wrote in a memo summarizing the DHS document.
ICE classifies illegal immigrants as criminal if they have been convicted of a crime, not including traffic offense, Vaughn noted.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Budget Committee, blasted the administration's record.
"The preponderance of the evidence demonstrates that immigration enforcement in America has collapsed. Even those with criminal convictions are being released. DHS is a department in crisis," he said in a statement Sunday.
"Secretary Johnson must reject the president's demands to weaken enforcement further and tell him that his duty, and his officers' duty, is to enforce the law - not break it," he added in reference to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.
A spokeswoman for ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Advocacy groups on both sides of the immigration debate have fired salvos back and forth over Obama's track record enforcing the law.
Republicans say they cannot trust Obama to enforce the law, and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) cited that as an obstacle to passing immigration reform through the House.
Pro-immigrant groups argue Obama has enforced the law too zealously.
Janet Murguía, the president of the National Council of La Raza, called Obama the "deporter in chief" earlier this month.
Senate Democrats like Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) have called on Obama to halt the deportations of illegal immigrants who are immediate family members of U.S. citizens.
The Center for Immigration Studies reports that ICE officials moved to deport 28 percent fewer illegal immigrants from the interior of the country in 2013 than in 2012.
The group obtained the law enforcement records through a lawsuit.