Obama administration acknowledged releasing illegals who didn’t fit ‘priority’ for deportation

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
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Letters obtained by The Daily Caller show the Obama administration has acknowledged releasing illegal immigrants from law enforcement custody and back into the general U.S. population even when they are outside the qualifications outlined in the president’s new immigration policy.

In March, the administration released an illegal alien from law enforcement custody for the reason that he did not “fit” any administrative “priority” for deportation.

On March 27, according to the Fox News Channel, a “veteran” Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer and one of his colleagues “were conducting surveillance on a vehicle in Newark, Del. with [license] plates that were registered to a criminal alien target.”

“During the surveillance, they observed an individual get into the vehicle. The person was detained, questioned and taken to an ICE office so that his fingerprints could be run through a federal database,” Fox News’ Todd Starnes reported in August. “The individual was not their criminal alien target. However, he was a 35-year-old illegal immigrant from Mexico who had ten previous traffic violations — including driving without a license.”

When that Fox story broke, National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council president Chris Crane said the ICE agent had exercised “prosecutorial discretion” and decided to “charge [the suspect] as being in the United States illegally and let the judge sort it out.”

That National ICE Council is a subset of the American Federation of Government Employees, an AFL-CIO member labor union. (RELATED: Immigrants don’t have to prove they meet DREAM Act criteria to avoid charges, ICE union chief says)

Political leaders inside ICE ordered the agent to release that criminal alien suspect, however. Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions wrote in a letter to ICE director John Morton on Aug. 3 that the suspect was released because he wasn’t a “presidential priority.”

When the ICE agent initially refused to release the suspect, he was threatened with retaliation from his superiors — a professional threat that continues to hang over his head.

In another letter to Morton, sent Tuesday, Sessions said the Delaware incident shows the nefarious intentions of the Obama administration’s immigration policy. It’s clear, he wrote, that the administration plans to use selective enforcement of immigration law to allow as many illegal aliens as possible to remain in the United States.

“It is difficult not to conclude from this and many other incidents that your agency is placing more emphasis on weakening enforcement procedures and releasing those apprehended than on supporting the officers who risk their lives every day to enforce the law,” Sessions wrote.

“The Administration goes to great lengths to publicly suggest that administrative amnesty is limited to those who entered this country by the age of 16, are currently not more than 30 years of age, are high school graduates or college students, and have exemplary records,” Sessions added. “But the Delaware incident demonstrates what we have long known: that the Administration’s non-enforcement policy applies to the overwhelming majority of illegal immigrants living in the United States — regardless of age, date of entry or, in many cases, even criminal history.”

In his Aug. 3 letter to Morton, Sessions said reports indicated the ICE agent had been “served with a ‘Notice of Proposed Suspension’ for arresting an individual whom the agent observed entering the vehicle of an alien wanted for criminal activity in Newark, Delaware, and whom the agent later determined to be a 35-year-old illegal alien with ten previous convictions for traffic violations, including driving without a license.”

“According to the report, a memorandum by Assistant Field Office Director David O’Neill sates that the agent was told to release the detained alien even though he was in the country illegally,” Sessions continued in that August letter. “When the agent refused, he was threatened with a three-day suspension. It is my understanding that the acting field director advised the criminal alien that he would be let go because he was not a ‘presidential priority.'”

In mid-August, ICE’s Office of Congressional Relations responded to Sessions and confirmed that the allegations and reports were true.

“Our review of the facts contained in your letter revealed that the individual encountered by the officer claimed to be a citizen of Mexico and to have entered the United States at an unknown location in Arizona without admission or parole on September 22, 2002,” ICE’s Elliot Williams replied to Sessions, in another letter obtained by TheDC. Williams is Assistant Director of the agency’s Office of Congressional Relations.

That illegal alien, Williams wrote, was not on a “target list” for an operation ICE was conducting — called “Operation Cross Check III” — which is focused on the “apprehension of at-large criminal aliens who pose the most serious threats to community safety.”

“The officer took the alien into custody and transported him to the field office to conduct database queries regarding his immigration status and criminal history,” Williams continued, a practice that was “consistent with the guidance” provided to agents during the operation.

Williams said that query found the illegal alien had been “cited for minor traffic violations” that did not “lead to incarceration,” only fines.

Sessions countered, however, that one of those traffic violations was for operating a motor vehicle without a license. Williams did not address this detail. Even so, ICE’s position is that those violations, including driving without a license, are not “assumed to pose a threat to the community.”

Williams also confirmed that ICE leadership ordered the agent to release the criminal alien suspect. “As this individual did not fit the Cross Check criteria or any other ICE priority, and many other targets remained at large, the officer was instructed by both his first and second-level supervisors to cease processing this individual and instead return to the field to search for other targets,” he wrote.

Since the agent tried to continue processing the illegal alien anyway, ICE leadership, Williams wrote, has “propose[d] disciplinary action for [the agent’s] failure to follow a supervisory instruction.”

Williams wrote on Aug. 15 in his letter to Sessions that “no disciplinary action” had yet been taken. But Crane and the ICE agents’ union have launched an online petition to respond to the threat of retaliation against the agent. More than 75,000 signers have expressed their support.

In his Sept. 11 reply to Morton, Sessions raised the issue of another case of an illegal alien released from custody after he allegedly physically assaulted law enforcement personnel.

“Apparently, even violent offenders are eligible for automatic release under the President’s non-enforcement policy,” Sessions wrote.

“Since I last wrote to you, several ICE agents filed a lawsuit against you and Secretary Napolitano in the federal district court for the Northern District of Texas. According to the complaint, ICE agent Samuel Martin, along with another ICE agent, picked up an illegal alien from the El Paso County, Texas jail on July 17, 2012.”

“While the agents were trying to place the individual in the vehicle, he attempted to escape and physically assaulted the agents,” Sessions continued. “Although the agents regained custody of the alien and transported him to the El Paso Criminal Alien Program office for processing, the agents’ supervisors ordered them to release the alien without charges and specifically to not issue a Notice to Appear, as required by 8 U.S.C. § 1225(b)(2)(A).”

“The agents protested the release of the alien but were told ‘it was a management decision, based on the President’s new immigration policies.’ Anyone with the even the slightest experience in law enforcement can see that such actions are devastating to law enforcement personnel.”

Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano and President Barack Obama trumpeted a new immigration policy in June, an announcement that culminated with an Obama Rose Garden press event during which he refused to take questions from the White House press corps about the controversial new policy.

Under the new “deferred action” policy, which critics have derided as an administrative application of the controversial DREAM Act, illegal aliens qualify to avoid deportation when they meet certain criteria.

Those eligible for special protection were under age 31 as of June 15, 2012; came to the United States before turning age 16; have resided continuously in the United States since June 15, 2007; “[a]re currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States”; and “[h]ave not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.”

Sessions blasted Morton for his “apparent failure to support” ICE agents and the rule of the law over the Obama administration’s political agenda with these new directives. “There is no question that the Administration’s unilaterally decreed policy is contrary to codified federal law and places our law enforcement officers in an untenable position,” Sessions wrote to Morton on Tuesday. “It comes as no surprise that the morale of your agents has plummeted.”

The Alabama GOP Senator questioned Morton’s qualifications to continue in his position, writing, “Your apparent failure to support your officers in these incidents, and your evident lack of concern for the Administration’s decision to nullify the very laws they were sworn to enforce, raises serious questions about your ability to lead this agency.”

To implement the administration’s new immigration policy, Obama and Napolitano have ordered ICE agents to use “prosecutorial discretion” to release from custody those illegal aliens who meet the new criteria. While the administration announced that the criteria would apply only to a specific subset of cases, but it appears that discretion is being applied more broadly.

The released Delaware suspect, for example, was 35 years old when taken into custody, according to Sessions. And he was released without charges although he had entered the United States when he was 25. Both facts, the senator argued, should have made the suspect ineligible for the special protections the administration outlined in June.

“The facts are not in dispute. … It was discovered that the apprehended alien was a 35-year-old Mexican citizen unlawfully present in this country who had incurred ten misdemeanor traffic violations and did not have a driver’s license,” Sessions wrote in his letter to Morton on Tuesday.

“Your letter acknowledges that the alien arrived in the U.S. in September of 2002, meaning that he was an adult aged around 25 at the time of his illegal entry. He could not, therefore, qualify for ‘deferred action,’ even under the Administration’s unlawfully imposed DREAM Act directive. … In this case, the individual entered the country as an adult, is well over the age of 30, and had multiple misdemeanor infractions.”

“ICE supervisors had no interest of any kind in his educational background,” Sessions said. “He was not eligible for ‘deferred action,’ but he was released regardless under the far broader non-enforcement policy that has been quietly instituted.”

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ICE – Sessions Letters Aug + Sept 2012