U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has admitted that made a grave error in 2013 when it agreed to spare a known gang member from deportation — a man who is now charged with the murder of three people in North Carolina.
USCIS Director Leon Rodriguez said in a Friday letter to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) that his agency has a process for checking the criminal background of applicants for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. But he admitted that in the case of Emmanuel Jesus Rangel-Hernandez, that process was not followed.
The Obama administration has admitted it erred by sparing Emmanuel Jesus Rangel-Hernandez from deportation. The known gang member is now a suspect in the murder of three people in North Carolina. Image: AP Photo/Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office
"Based on standard procedures and protocols in place at the time, the DACA request and related employment authorization should not have been approved," he wrote.
Rodriguez explained that under policies in place in 2013, known street gang members should be denied DACA benefits "as a matter of discretion." He also wrote that at the time he applied for DACA, Rangel-Hernandez was in removal proceedings — those proceedings ended when he was approved under DACA.
"Given the fact that the individual was identified as a known gang member, his request should have been denied by the adjudicator," he wrote. He added that if an adjudicator found a reason to accept a known gang member into the program, that request would have to be elevated to higher level officials at USCIS.
Grassley said the error shows USCIS doesn't have a good grip on how to review people under DACA.
"It's no secret that USCIS staff is under intense pressure to approve every DACA application that comes across their desk, and based on this information, it's clear that adequate protocols are not in place to protect public safety," he said. "The fact is that this tragedy could have been avoided if the agency had a zero tolerance policy with regard to criminal aliens and gang members."
"The fact is that this tragedy could have been avoided if the agency had a zero tolerance policy with regard to criminal aliens and gang members," he added.
"The USCIS needs to immediately start performing detailed criminal background checks to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future," added Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). Another Republican, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), said USCIS's admission is "chilling," and said the incident shows that the government can't carry out Obama's immigration plan "without compromising the safety of Americans."
Rodriguez said USCIS was taking steps to ensure similar errors would not happen again, including "refresher training" for USCIS officials on how to handle DACA requests.
"Officers received DACA refresher training regarding disqualifying public safety and criminality concerns, including but not limited to gang membership, significant misdemeanors, and three or more misdemeanor criminal offenses," he wrote.
Grassley asked the Department of Homeland Security in February whether Emmanuel Jesus Rangel-Hernandez was spared from deportation even though he was a known gang member, after which he was later charged with murdering three people in North Carolina.
Read the USCIS letter here: