In a terse exchange with ICE Director John Morton on Tuesday, South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy accused the department head of endangering the safety of Americans with the recent release of over 2,200 illegal immigrant detainees, including aggravated felons.
The exchange, during a House Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “The Release of Criminal Detainees by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement: Policy or Politics,” got heated as Gowdy assailed the administration’s response to sequestration.
“It does look like the decision to release the detainees was a political determination and not a monetary determination,” Gowdy said. “It appears to me that the release of the detainees was part of a sequester campaign that included the fictional firing of teachers, the closing of the White House for student tours, the displacement of meat inspectors and now we are going to release aggravated felons—some aggravated felons onto the street.”
Morton asserted throughout the hearing, as others in the administration have, that career officials at the department made the decision to release the illegal immigrants.
“Now I have counted six times you have said you didn’t want to rob Peter to pay Paul,” Gowdy continued, referencing the manner in which Morton explained the department’s funding decisions.
“I don’t want Peter or Paul to rob one of our fellow citizens because you guessed wrong on who to release,” he added.
Gowdy, chairman of the House immigration subcommittee, asked for the number of level one offenders released.
“There are four presently,” Morton answered.
“How many were released,” Gowdy stressed.
“Eight were released, we have four presently,” Morton responded.
Gowdy pressed on why eight were released but only four are still out.
“Two were released when the computer records were not correct and we went back and looked at them and brought them back in. One, was a mistake and then—,” Morton said as Gowdy cut him off.
“What kind of mistake?” Gowdy interjected.
Morton responded it was an issue “where the instructions to the field were not carried out.”
Gowdy estimated that detaining 4 level-one felons would cost agency $600 a day. Gowdy’s math was a little off as he pinned the daily cost at $122, an expense that would result in a $488 for four individuals.
“Each day,” Morton responded.
“You can’t find $600 anywhere else in your budget,” Gowdy pressed.
“The question is whether that $600 is well spent on those people or someone else,” Morton said.
Gowdy went on to interrogate Morton on the release of drunk driving offenders, specifically repeat offender drunk drivers, which Morton acknowledged have been released.
“I don’t have the exact number [on repeat offender drunk drivers released],” Morton said. “We have released many individuals who had DUI offenses,” he said noting that most have been single offenders but there have been repeat.
“I would note for the record, Mr. Gowdy, Congress has not provided that a DUI is a ground of removal, in fact most misdemeanors are not a ground of removal. It is the agency by agency policy that factors that in,” he added. “I can’t order you removed for having committed a DUI offense that is not a ground of removal.”
Gowdy responded harshly.
“No you can’t director, but you certainly can request a programmatic rescheduling so that you can move money around. This notion that you don’t want to rob Peter to pay Paul, you could have easily done that, you could have found $600 to keep these level one violators from being released. And don’t act like you could not have,” Gowdy said, raising his voice.
Morton went on to testify that he is unaware of any new crimes committed so far by those detainees released.
Last week Morton testified before a House appropriations subcommittee that ICE has released 2,228 detainees. Of those, 629 were convicted criminals.