11/02/2011 02:59 pm ET Updated Jan 02, 2012

House Republicans Move Forward With Subpoena Effort On Immigration

WASHINGTON -- House Republicans on the immigration subcommittee voted on Wednesday to authorize a subpoena of the Obama administration over its deportation policies, arguing that immigration enforcers may be hiding their release of dangerous undocumented immigrants.

"Are administration officials afraid the information will show that illegal aliens intentionally released by ICE have committed crimes that could have been prevented?" Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said.

"The American people have a right to know what crimes these 300,000 illegal immigrants committed after [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] intentionally chose not to detain them," he continued.

House Republicans have been critical of the deportation policy, announced in August, under which the Department of Homeland Security will review its pending deportation cases and close the ones deemed low-priority.

Smith requested information on the deportation policy in August, and told Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano last week that he would take further action this week if he had not received data by Monday Oct. 31. Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.), chairman of the immigration subcommittee, said they have been "stonewalled" by the Department of Homeland Security in investigating the policy.

"The administration is obviously not acting in good faith and is wrongly trying to keep crucial information from the American people," Smith said at the subcommittee meeting. "They are on the verge of obstructing the legitimate role of congress."

The Department of Homeland Security said its policy is based on the agency's limited resources, not a desire to let undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes off the hook. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton has said the agency has funding to deport about 400,000 people per year. Last fiscal year, they nearly hit that figure, removing a record 396,906 undocumented immigrants.

The Department of Homeland Security told Smith in a letter last week that the agency deported about 126,000 undocumented immigrants taken into custody through the Secure Communities enforcement program, out of the 629,000 people referred to them. Some of those matched by the program turn out to be naturalized citizens or legal immigrants, the department has said in defense of the program.

DHS says it is working to gather the information requested by the committee, some of which belongs to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

"DHS has implemented common sense immigration enforcement priorities that focus our limited resources on convicted criminals, repeat immigration law violators, fugitives and recent entrants," Chris Ortman, a spokesman for the agency, said in a statement. "DHS is fully cooperating with the committee and is in the process of gathering information responsive to the Committee's inquiry."

Democrats, all of whom voted against the subpoena authorization, said the move would be premature when the Department of Homeland Security has repeatedly said it will cooperate. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, said the committee only issued subpoenas under the last Congress when officials refused to appear in hearings. He said he understood the chairman's frustration that the August request had not yet been answered, but added that the issue involved multiple agencies and complex privacy issues.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), a member of the committee, said the subpoena effort was an attempt to undermine the Obama administration's deportation policy, which has been praised by supporters of immigration reform.

"My angst with this subpoena is this is a way to attack the Obama administration on a policy that my friends on the other side disagree with," she said. "This is not a policy that can be shown to jeopardize the American public or the safety of the American public."