WASHINGTON (CN) – The head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement downplayed the drop in the number of deportations of undocumented immigrants with criminal records at a hearing on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
Sarah Saldana, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told the Senate Judiciary Committee her agency has focused on deporting criminals in the country illegally who pose the most danger to their communities and that she is “pleased with the numbers.”
“What is more productive for immigration enforcement, the removal of a mother and two children who are causing no harm to her community or a convicted child molester?” Saldana asked. “That is where we are focusing and that is what we continue to do.”
Throughout the hearing Saldana implored the committee to tackle comprehensive immigration reform that would help make her job and the jobs of ICE agents easier.
“I have called for and will continue until the day I leave this office to ask, beg you, to consider comprehensive immigration reform,” Saldana said.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, agreed with Saldana, and pointed the finger at Republicans on the committee who opposed a reform effort in 2013 that would have increased the number of border patrol agents and pumped up the border security funding.
“We wouldn’t have to build Mr. Trump’s wall,” Durbin said.
After the hearing Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, suggested special interest groups ruined the bill Durbin referred to and was skeptical new laws would solve the problem.
“What we learned today is that we’re not even enforcing the most basic laws on the books today,” Sessions said. “This is the fundamental distrust that this administration has engendered and as a result improved laws are unlikely to make much difference.”
Republicans on the committee focused primarily on the drop in the number of criminals deported in recent years. ICE deported roughly half as many undocumented immigrants with criminal records in 2015 as it did in 2011, according to a chart Sessions showed at the hearing.
Sessions called this an “alarming development,” and pressed Saldana to explain it.
Saldana responded by saying crackdowns on the border have simply left fewer people for ICE to deport and that the agency has actually deported a higher rate of criminals in the country illegally. She also said a complicated, overwrought legal code and uncooperative foreign nations makes ICE’s mission to deport undocumented immigrants with criminal records more difficult.
A nation has to accept a potential deportee for ICE to be able to remove a criminal in the United States illegally, and some are not helpful in this regard, Saldana told the committee.
“We are removing everyone we can under the law,” Saldana said. “This law provides for a lot of due process and a lot of avenues for requesting release.”
Saldana had a lengthy, contentious exchange with Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas regarding the administration’s positions on comprehensive immigration reform and her agency’s policies. Cruz characterized the administration’s efforts as illegal policies that put “murderers, rapists” and “violent criminals” on the streets.
Cruz pressed Saldana on the number of criminals deported, and suggested the administration has not done enough to hold violent criminals.
“And Ms. Saldana, when you met with the Steinle family, did you apologize for them on behalf of the president for his supporting policies that have created sanctuary cities across this country that led directly to the murder of their daughter?” Cruz asked Saldana, referring to the July shooting death of Kate Steinle in San Francisco, allegedly at the hands of an undocumented immigrant.
Saldana called the suggestion that ICE agents should chase down every person in the country illegally “impractical” and “not very smart.” Cruz seized on the last phrase and asked Saldana if she thought the Clinton administration’s deportation of 12 million such people was also “not very smart.”
“Are you serious about this question?” Saldana asked Cruz.
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