Oversight panel to subpoena Trump officials next week over deportation deferrals

Oversight panel to subpoena Trump officials next week over deportation deferrals
© Greg Nash

The chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee announced Thursday he will issue subpoenas next week for official accounts of a Trump administration policy to end deportation deferrals for humanitarian reasons.

In a memo to members of the committee, Oversight Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsCracks emerge in White House strategy as witness testifies Overnight Defense: Pentagon insists US hasn't abandoned Kurds | Trump expands sanctions authority against Turkey | Ex-Ukraine ambassador says Trump pushed for her ouster On The Money: Trump announces limited trade deal with China | Appeals court rules against Trump over financial records | Trump expands authority to sanction Turkey MORE (D-Md.) said he will issue subpoenas on Tuesday to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Acting Director Matthew Albence, in the wake of a September hearing where lower-ranking agency officials stonewalled Democratic members.

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“Throughout the Committee’s investigation, the Administration has refused to produce requested documents, and agency officials have refused to answer questions regarding why the Administration sought to deport these children, who was responsible for this decision, and how requests for deferred action will be handled going forward,” Cummings wrote.

“The Administration claimed that it was withholding this information because it was in ‘active litigation’ with a private party—an argument the Supreme Court has rejected as a basis to withhold documents from Congress,” he added.

A spokesman for ICE said the agency will respond to the subpoena "via official channels."

Officials for USCIS did not immediately return a request for comment.

At issue is a policy change announced on Aug. 7, where USCIS said it would stop considering deferrals for most immigrants with special circumstances.

USCIS had previously issued deportation deferrals for compelling humanitarian needs, including cases of foreign nationals with life-threatening conditions who seek medical care in the United States.

"Deferred action allows individuals with compelling humanitarian need—including children with life-threatening conditions such as cancer, muscular dystrophy, and cystic fibrosis—to remain in the country," wrote Cummings.

"Deferrals do not provide a pathway to citizenship, but they provide successful applicants a reprieve from immigration actions in two-year increments, the ability to qualify for health benefits, and legal status to work in the United States to support their families," he added.

On Sept. 2, USCIS reopened deferral cases for people who had applied before Aug. 7.

Still, Oversight scheduled a hearing with USCIS and ICE officials on Sept. 11 to determine what had prompted the policy change.

The night before the hearing, the Department of Homeland Security announced its officials would not be able to answer most questions, as a private party had sued the responsible agencies over the policy change.

Democrats were livid after an exchange at the hearing between Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinOversight panel to subpoena Trump officials next week over deportation deferrals Democrats plow ahead as Trump seeks to hobble impeachment effort Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to testify on Libra | Extremists find home on Telegram app | Warren blasts Facebook for not removing anti-Biden ad | California outlaws facial recognition in police body cameras | China rips US tech sanctions MORE (D-Md.) and USCIS Field Operations Directorate Associate Director Daniel Renaud.

"You can't tell me there's a new policy. You can't tell me what motivated the new policy, and you can't tell me what the new policy is. Is that a correct assessment of the situation?" asked Raskin.

"That is my testimony, sir, yes," replied Renaud.

Committee officials later requested documentation on the policy, but were told by DHS officials that their request "cannot be considered by us as a Chairman’s letter.”

A week later, Cuccinelli wrote Raskin that DHS Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan had directed USCIS to return to the deferred action process in place before Aug. 6.

In that letter, Cuccinelli refused Raskin's invitation to testify before the committee, saying the deferral policy issue is "a resolved issue."

Still, Cummings wrote that he will go ahead with the subpoenas, as Democrats believe McAleenan's new directive is unclear on who may receive deferred action, and the question of how the policy initially came about remains unanswered.