The Obama administration has released “tens of thousands” of illegal aliens convicted of crimes in the U.S. because their home countries refused to take them back.
And a “substantial number” of those involve serious crimes, a government official said Thursday during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on so-called recalcitrant countries.
Nations like China, Liberia and Guinea often refuse to take back their own citizens after being convicted of crimes in the U.S.
The issue entered the national spotlight here after a Haitian national named Jean Jacques killed 25-year-old Casey Chadwick last year in her Connecticut apartment after being released from prison after serving 17 years in prison for attempted murder. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was unable to deport Jacques back to Haiti because the Caribbean nation refused to take him back.
Lawmakers from both parties have put increased pressure on the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to use diplomatic means to force recalcitrant nations to comply. That includes the withholding of international aid and the denial of visas to those countries.
During Thursday’s hearing Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan asked ICE’s deputy director Daniel Ragsdale how many criminal aliens have been released back onto the streets in the U.S. because their home countries refused to take them back.
“It’s tens of thousands,” Ragsdale said.
Asked how many of those criminal aliens had committed serious crimes, Ragsdale said: “It is a substantial number.”
Later in the hearing, Iowa Rep. Rod Blum put a more precise number on the problem.
Since 2011, “13,511 criminal aliens have been released back into American communities,” he said.
“This isn’t rocket science,” the Republican continued. “I know we’re dealing with other countries. Americans want action. They’re behind you. They want you to do this.”
“I don’t know if the administration is…but the American people are behind you.”
The U.S. has only imposed sanctions on one recalcitrant nation. In 2001, the George W. Bush administration refused to issue visas to government officials in Guyana because the South American nation refused to accept 113 of its citizens who had been ordered removed from the U.S.
The sanctions proved effective. Guyana began repatriating deported aliens soon after the sanctions were imposed.
The next year, the State Department issued a memorandum of understanding which okayed sanctions against recalcitrant nations.
When nations are refusing to accept its citizens back after being ordered removed from the U.S., “the Secretary of State shall order consular officers to discontinue granting nonimmigrant and/or immigrant visas, as the Secretary of State deems appropriate,” the memo states.
During Thursday’s hearing, Pennsylvania Rep. Matt Cartwright, a Democrat, asked another witness, Michele Bond, the State Department’s assistant secretary for consular affairs, if it makes sense to “actually impose [sanctions] once in a great while” rather than issue empty threats.
He asked Bond if the State Department has ever threatened or even hinted at imposing sanctions on recalcitrant countries.
“Yes, we absolutely have,” she said.
“We have informed specific countries that are on the recalcitrant list that we have to see results within a time-bound period of time or there’s going to be a real likelihood that the next step would be visa sanctions.”
But in explaining why those threats have not materialized into real action, Bond said that it can often be “a distraction and unhelpful” to impose sanctions.
“In cases where we are able to say to a country ‘you simply are not responding, you have left us no choice.’ in cases where people are responding and you are moving forward it can be a distraction and unhelpful to say ‘OK, we see you doing this, and now we’re going to bring the hammer down,'” said Bond, an Obama appointee.
She offered a tepid defense of the State Department’s aversion to issuing sanctions, saying that the 2002 memorandum of understanding requires notification by the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
She said that Sec. Jeh Johnson has not issued that formal notification to impose sanctions.
Asked by Jordan why DHS has not notified the State Department about the problem, Ragsdale said that Johnson has been in contact with State to discuss the issue.
“We will work on that,” Ragsdale said regarding taking a more direct approach.