Senate Republicans are looking to put an end to the Obama administration's practice of releasing thousands of immigrants with criminal convictions into cities and towns all across America.
On Wednesday, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and four other senators proposed the Keep Our Communities Safe Act. The bill would give the Department of Homeland Security the authority to detain immigrants who have been convicted of violent crimes beyond six months.
Republicans are pressing Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to find a way to detain immigrants who have been convicted of violent crimes. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
The legislation is a reaction to a 2001 Supreme Court decision on immigration, known as the Zadvydas v. Davis. Under that ruling, immigration authorities can only hold an immigrant scheduled for deportation for six months.
If their home country has not accepted them for deportation within that time, the immigrant must be released back into the United States.
Senators say this "catch and release" policy needs to be changed, since many of the immigrants are being detained because they have been convicted of a crime. But they say the Obama administration has done nothing to help create an exception that would allow violent criminals to be detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
"By releasing these criminals back into our communities we are allowing them to commit even more crimes against Americans," Inhofe said. "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," he added. "In 2013 alone, more than 36,000 criminally convicted aliens were released by ICE because their home countries had yet to take them back."
On Wednesday, Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) pressed Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson for more details about what his department is doing to ensure violent criminals are not simply freed and put in a position to commit more crimes.
"Releasing 36,000 people with criminal convictions is no small matter," Grassley told Johnson in a committee hearing. "These individuals have been convicted of homicide, sexual assault and kidnapping. They are drunk drivers and drug offenders. And, now they are free to roam our streets."
But while Grassley complained that Johnson has not provided a good answer, Johnson repeated his previous response. Johnson said he has asked lawyers whether there was any way around the requirement to release immigrants who had committed crimes, but indicated he doesn't have a final answer yet.
Grassley is a co-sponsor of Inhofe's bill, as are Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and David Vitter (R-La.).
Under the legislation, DHS could certify every six months that a detainee is a threat, and keep that person detained for another six months. It would allow DHS to keep people detained if it's determined that they are about to be deported, have a highly contagious disease, threaten national security, or threaten the safety of the community because the immigrant has committed a violent crime.
The bill's sponsors said that of the 36,000 people released last year, 193 had homicide convictions, and more than 1,000 were convicted of aggravated assault. More than 16,000 had DUI convictions.