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Government watchdog: ICE released almost 13,000 illegal immigrants in 2014 after deciding they weren't priorities for deportation

Photo Credit: DHS

The government watchdog for the Department of Homeland Security released a report this week saying that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released nearly 13,000 illegal immigrants in fiscal year 2014, because ICE deemed they were not enforcement priorities.

The same report from the DHS' Office of Inspector General found that DHS is not gathering and assessing enough data on its various policies of prosecutorial discretion, even though it had promised to do so.

DHS Seal The government watchdog for the Department of Homeland Security said DHS isn't following through on its commitment to track its use of prosecutorial discretion when it comes to policing illegal immigrants.

The report noted that last year, after President Barack Obama announced his executive action on immigration, DHS released memos to describe its new immigration enforcement priorities. Those memos were based on the concept of "prosecutorial discretion," which the government says allows it not to enforce immigration laws against immigrants that don't pose any immediate threat to the country.

Included in one of those memos was a promise by DHS that it would collect data on its new policy, in part to help show how well the policy is working. But the OIG said this is not being done.

"According to the policy, the data is to be collected to promote public confidence in the department's immigration enforcement activities and to provide greater transparency in annual reporting of DHS' removal statistics," the report said.

"DHS does not collect and analyze data on the use of prosecutorial discretion to fully assess its current immigration enforcement activities and to develop future policy," it added. "The department also does not have a mechanism to continuously monitor its use of prosecutorial discretion and improve future policy."

The report noted as an example that ICE had only a rough count of how many illegal immigrants it released because they did not fit the new enforcement priority.

"For example in FY 2014, ICE recorded 12,757 instances in which an ICE officer, after interviewing an individual and determining he or she was not an enforcement priority, used prosecutorial discretion to release the alien," the report said. "However, according to ICE, the prosecutorial discretion data may not always be accurate and complete."

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) slammed DHS for failing to live up to its pledge to track its use of prosecutorial discretion.

"As a result, the American people are left in the dark about the effects of the administration's immigration policies and dangerous criminal aliens who have committed a crime in their home country may be able to find amnesty in the United States," he said. "While it is inexcusable that DHS does not monitor the use of prosecutorial discretion, it's even more important that the Obama Administration end its reckless policies."

The Obama administration made two major announcements about prosecutorial discretion — one in 2012, when it created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and again in 2014, when it expanded DACA and created a new program called DAPA, which allowed parents and legal guardians of legal U.S. residents to avoid deportation.

Both policies allow illegal immigrants to apply under these programs to be officially spared of any deportation threat. Republicans have said those policies to affirmatively spare whole classes of people from deportation go far beyond the traditional meaning of prosecutorial discretion, which should instead be limited to a case-by-case examination of any immigrant that is apprehended.

Obama's expansion of DACA and the creation of DAPA have been put on hold, as a federal judge imposed an injunction on those programs that is still being assessed by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

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