Chuck Grassley

United States Senator from Iowa

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Senators Introduce Bill to Close Catch-and-Release Loophole

Jun 11, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Chuck Grassley today joined senators Jim Inhofe, Jeff Sessions, David Vitter and Ted Cruz to introduce the Keep Our Communities Safe Act 2014.  The legislation would close the legal loophole created by the U.S. Supreme Court in Zadvydas v. Davis (2001) that requires immigration authorities to release back into the United States any immigrant who has not been accepted for deportation to other countries after being detained for six months; a practice commonly referred to as “catch and release.”
 
“Currently our federal government releases back into the United States any immigrant that no other country will accept for deportation, including those who have committed a crime of violence or an aggravated felony,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe. “By releasing these criminals back into our communities we are allowing them to commit even more crimes against Americans. From 2008-2012, nearly 17,000 immigrants with orders of removal were released back into our communities. And now, just last month, we learned that this number has more than doubled in one year. In 2013 alone, more than 36,000 criminally convicted aliens were released by ICE because their home countries had yet to take them back. The Keep Our Communities Safe Act requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to recertify every six months if a person is a threat, and will close the catch-and-release loop hole on these offenders. I urge Congress to take up this legislation and help protect Americans from the several thousands of violent offenders currently being released back into the United States each year.”
 
“The Zadvydas decision has limited the federal government’s ability to detain aliens who have been ordered removed,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley. “Since then, the Obama administration has relied upon the ruling in Zadvydas to release thousands of criminally convicted aliens. However, they have refused to help fix it. We’re moving forward with this bill and closing the legal loophole that requires ICE to release dangerous criminals onto the streets of America.  This matter needs to be taken seriously.”
 
“This loophole is just one of many examples that our immigration system is severely broken,” said Sen. David Vitter. “Not only that - it puts our families and our communities at risk by releasing criminals back into our neighborhoods,” Vitter said. “This makes no sense. We need to be enforcing our immigration laws first – like increasing our border security and detaining criminals—not giving a free pass to illegal aliens.”
            
This bill allows for the Department of Homeland Security to detain non-removable immigrants beyond six months in these specific situations:
•         The alien will be removed in the reasonably foreseeable future;
•         The alien would have been removed but for the alien’s refusal to make all reasonable efforts to comply and cooperate with the Secretary’s efforts to remove him;
•         The alien has a highly contagious disease;
•         Release would have serious adverse foreign policy consequences;
•         Release would threaten national security; or
•         Release would threaten the safety of the community and the alien either is an aggravated felon or has committed a crime of violence.
 
Background:
A Vietnamese immigrant, Binh Thai Luc, was ordered deported in 2006 after serving time in prison for armed robbery and assault. Due to the Supreme Court decision in Zadvydas v.Davis, Luc was released from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody when Vietnam refused to admit him. He is now facing charges for the murder of 5 people in San Francisco in March of 2012.
 
In 2013, more than 36,000 criminally convicted aliens were released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Together, those released had nearly 88,000 convictions, including:
•         193 homicide convictions
•         426 sexual Assault convictions
•         1,075 aggravated assault convictions
•         16,070 DUI convictions
 
Grassley’s statement for the Senate Record upon introduction is below.

Prepared Floor Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley
Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee
Release of 36,007 Criminal Aliens
Thursday, June 12, 2014

    In the last few weeks, startling data from the Obama Administration has revealed that the Department of Homeland Security has released over 36,000 aliens with criminal convictions into the United States.
    
    According to responses to some Members of Congress, Secretary Johnson has acknowledged that 36,007 convicted criminal aliens were released from Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in fiscal year 2013.  Many of these aliens had multiple convictions. In fact, among the 36,007 aliens released, they had nearly 88,000 convictions.

Data prepared by ICE, and reported by the Center for Immigration Studies, shows that among the criminally convicted aliens released into American communities were:
•    193 homicide convictions, including one willful killing of a public official with a gun,
•    426 sexual assault convictions,
•    303 kidnapping convictions,
•    1,075 aggravated assault convictions,
•    1,160 stolen vehicle convictions,
•    9,187 dangerous drug convictions,
•    and 16,070 drunk or drugged driving convictions.

I have repeatedly said that this administration has failed the American public by refusing to enforce the laws on the books.  This administration has turned a blind eye to those who have broken the law and have irresponsibly exercised their executive authority to find a way allow people here unlawfully to remain in the country.  

In failing to enforce the immigration laws, the administration has betrayed its responsibility to protect the public safety of the American people.  

President Obama’s administration has continually stated that they are focused on enforcement against the worst of the worst convicted criminals. Yet, they are releasing thousands of aliens every year with serious and, in many cases, violent criminal convictions.

ICE has responded to criticism by declaring that many of the individuals released were under supervisory restrictions. These restrictions range from bond to ankle bracelets to a periodic telephone call to a designated ICE phone line.  Some individuals, however, are issued an order of recognizance and therefore, are under no supervision at all.

Is the American public supposed to feel safer because the same administration that released violent criminals into our communities claims to be monitoring them? Is the American public supposed to trust these aliens convicted of crimes and are here unlawfully to follow the terms of their release?

Despite requests, ICE has failed to specify the nature of the release conditions placed upon these violent criminal aliens. In the interest of public safety, we should all demand to know the release conditions of those aliens released who have been convicted of violent crimes.

The administration is also claiming that many of the individuals they released in 2013 were due to the 2001 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Zadvydas v. Davis.  This decision limited the federal government’s ability to detain aliens who have been ordered removed.  

This case sets the pitiful precedent that aliens subject to final orders of removal, including ones convicted of a crime, cannot be held longer than 6 months and will be released in the United States if their home country refuses to take them back or their home country simply delays the U.S. government’s request for a travel document.  Other countries know that -- because of the ruling in Zadvydas-- they can simply run out the clock on issuing travel documents for the criminally convicted individual.  Therefore, we have aliens, with no legal right to be in the United States, unwanted by their own country, being released into the country by our own administration.

This Supreme Court decision has had a detrimental effect on our ability to obtain travel documents from foreign countries and effectuate removal orders.  Many countries refuse to take back their criminal aliens, leaving us no choice but to release them into our own communities.

This precedent needs to be corrected. The administration has relied upon the ruling in Zadvydas to release thousands of criminally convicted aliens. However, they have refused to help fix it.  In fact, the Senate immigration reform bill that they supported does not include a fix to the 2001 Supreme Court decision.  They have not asked Congress to extend the length of time they are allowed to detain foreign nationals with final orders of removal.  

That is why I am cosponsoring the “Keeping Our Communities Safe Act” being introduced today by the Senator from Oklahoma.  His bill would close the legal loophole that requires ICE to release dangerous criminals onto the streets of America.  It would allow ICE to detain non-removable immigrants beyond six months if the alien is a national security threat or is a threat to the safety of the community and has a past violent crime conviction.

In addition to hiding behind the Supreme Court decision, the administration has refused to use the tools at its disposal to get countries to cooperate.  Federal law allows the Secretary of State to discontinue granting visas to all residents of a country that refuses or unreasonably delays taking back its aliens facing deportation from the United States.  

Secretary Johnson, at a House Judiciary two weeks ago, acknowledged that in his capacity as Secretary, his department has never asked the Department of State to use this authority. This visa sanction authority has only been invoked one time, in 2011 against Guayana, within two months Guayana issued travel documents for 112 of 113 aliens ordered removed from the United States to Guayana. This tactic has been proven effective and Secretary Johnson should be employing this measure.

Of the 36,000 persons released in 2013, ICE claims that 3,652 were due to the 2001 Supreme Court decision.  So, only a small portion of those released were mandatorily released under Zadvydas.

While thousands of criminally convicted aliens have been released into the United States, both at ICE’s discretion and due to bad Supreme Court precedent, President Obama has called for a reduction of immigration detention capacity by 10 percent.

The simplicity of this idea seriously calls into question this administration’s management capabilities. The fact that thousands of people are being released from detention clearly suggests that ICE needs more beds, not less, in order to avoid releasing more criminally convicted aliens into America.

This administration is knowingly putting the safety of the American people at risk. Releasing violent criminals into the American population should cause great doubt about this administration’s ability to enforce current immigration laws.

ICE needs to provide the American people with more information about the criminal aliens it releases. ICE needs to tell the American people what terms of release are given to what criminal offenses. ICE needs to tell the American people what types of criminal offenses it deems appropriate to release at their own discretion.

ICE needs to tell the American people how many of these criminally convicted aliens comply with the terms of their release. ICE needs to tell the American people how many of these criminally convicted aliens commit further crimes after being released.  ICE needs to tell the American people how many of these criminally convicted aliens who are released become fugitives.

This administration tells us to trust them.  They say they are removing more people than ever before.  They claim the immigration bill passed by this body will solve our problems.  Yet, they have failed us and the American people.  They continue to turn a blind eye to lawbreakers and refuse to take this matter seriously.  

There should be more outrage about the news coming from this administration.  Releasing 36,000 criminal aliens is a serious matter.  And, one that better be fixed soon for the sake of the American public.

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