WASHINGTON — Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Sarah Saldaña told a congressional committee today that GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall along the southern border to deter illegal immigration would “not secure anything.”
Saldaña also said ICE continues to release illegal immigrants after they commit crimes in the U.S. despite having enough space to keep them in detention.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) asked Saldaña if it is possible to fully secure the border as a way to combat terrorism.
“Well, that’s a huge issue but I would say no – that’s why everything we do starting with the secretary and his priorities is based on a case-by-case basis. You’ve got to look at every individual,” Saldaña said at a Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing on criminal aliens released by the Department of Homeland Security.
Norton followed up and requested Saldaña describe how ICE would go about sealing the border.
“I can’t imagine how you would go about that,” she responded. “I think there’s been some discussion about building a wall, and that kind of thing doesn’t sound like it would secure anything, actually.”
Although ICE has the capability to hold more illegal immigrants in detention, DHS is releasing illegal immigrants with criminal records into U.S. communities. Some have gone on to commit more crimes after ICE had them in custody but chose to let them go.
Saldaña confirmed statistics presented by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) including the figure of 86,000 illegal aliens with criminal records released into the public by ICE. The crimes committed include murder, assault, rape, kidnapping and others.
According to Saldaña, ICE currently has 2,000 beds available for illegal immigrants who commit crimes. She said that number could increase to 3,600 or more beds “tomorrow.”
“Illegal entrant committed a violent crime and they are in your custody, you have the capability, the facilities to hold more and you’re exercising your judgment to release them, and some of those people you released did violent crimes and actually took the lives of American citizens,” Jordan said.
“Today we have about 2,000 beds available based on what this Congress authorized us to do,” Saldaña said.
“I think we’re saying ‘let’s use them,’” Jordan responded.
Scott Root, the father of Sarah Root, who had just graduated from college when her vehicle was struck Jan. 31 by an illegal immigrant with a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit, testified at the hearing.
ICE rejected a request from local authorities to issue a detainer on the driver, Eswin G. Mejia. He is currently on the loose after posting $5,000 bail and fleeing the area.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) asked Saldaña why ICE let Mejia go after he failed to appear for his immigration court hearing before murdering Root.
“He did not appear for his court hearing,” she said. “These are tough decisions, sir.”
“This one is not that tough to me,” Gowdy said, before pressing Saldaña on whether the $50,000 bail was too low since it allowed Mejia to post only $5,000 upon release.
“I will tell you judges make tough decisions every day, and we can point to judges,” she said. “I was on the receiving end of many of these as a prosecutor asking for detention and a federal judge said ‘no’ and later that person absconded, unfortunately. It irks me every time, of course, but unfortunately it happens a lot.”
Gowdy shot back, “It does happen and sometimes with tragic consequences.”