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Obama Administration Implements Priority Enforcement Program, Limits Interior Enforcement

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As the courts sort out the legality of President Obama’s executive action to grant amnesty and work permits to 5 million illegal aliens, the Obama administration is moving forward on other portions of the president’s executive actions announced last November. According to the House Judiciary Committee, the Obama administration has begun implementing its Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) that prohibits U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents from targeting most illegal aliens for removal, including most of those who come into contact with state and local police.

Under the new policy, agents can still detain illegal aliens from jails and prisons, but are told to no longer detain individuals charged with drug possession, or theft or fraud if it involved stealing an identity to try to further their unlawful presences in the U.S.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) issued the following statement on the Obama Administration’s Priority Enforcement Program.

The only priority contained in the Priority Enforcement Program is to ensure that our immigration laws are not enforced in the interior of the United States. By scrapping a law enforcement tool that keeps our communities safe and replacing it with a new program that permits the release of criminal aliens, President Obama is needlessly endangering our communities. It’s past time for the Obama Administration to get its priorities straight and protect the American people instead of their political interests. The House Judiciary Committee will examine this new program at next month’s Department of Homeland Security oversight hearing.

According to a report released by the House Judiciary Committee, PEP permits significant numbers of criminal aliens to remain in the United States even if they have been charged or arrested for serious criminal offenses.

Obama Administration officials claim that PEP will continue to rely on biometric data to identify criminal aliens, but ICE will only be permitted to transfer aliens from the custody of state and local law enforcement through the new program when an alien has been convicted of certain, but not all, of the offenses in the Administration’s new, so-called immigration enforcement “priorities.” These “priorities” ignore entire categories of removable criminal aliens defined by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act. After the implementation of PEP, DHS will not pursue the vast majority of criminal aliens who commit the following offenses: fraud or material misrepresentation in the immigration process; drug possession offenses; most theft offenses, including identity theft; nearly all crimes involving moral turpitude; and, aliens who have misdemeanors that the Administration does not deem to be “significant.”

If an unlawful immigrant commits a crime, but is able to be released from state or local custody before the conclusion of the criminal proceedings, DHS will turn a blind eye to allow the unlawful immigrant to remain on the streets until that alien has an actual conviction. Note, this is even a departure from the previous priorities issued by former Director Morton. For DHS, permitting the criminal alien to remain on the streets overrides protecting the community.

PEP also ignores the priority ratings established last year by the Department of Homeland Security by not pursing:

  • Priority (1)(b) Recent border crossers: “Aliens apprehended at the border or ports of entry while attempting to unlawfully enter the United States” are not subject to PEP.
  • Priority 2© Aliens who enter the U.S. unlawfully or reenter after being removed or returned: “Aliens apprehended anywhere in the United States after unlawfully entering or re-entering the United States and who cannot establish to the satisfaction of an immigration officer that they have been physically present in the United States continuously since January 1, 2014,” are not subject to PEP.
  • Priority 2(d): Aliens who “significantly abuse the terms of their visas”: “Aliens who, in the judgment of an ICE Field Office Director, USCIS District Director, or USCIS Service Center Director, have significantly abused the visa or visa waiver programs are not subject to the PEP program.” When asked, the Administration could not provide a definition of the term “significantly abused the visa or visa waiver programs.”
  • Priority (3) Aliens with final orders of removal: Even aliens “who have been issued a final order of removal on or after January 1, 2014,” are not subject to PEP.

The new program replaces the Secure Communities program under which ICE agents identified criminal aliens booked in jails across the United States so that federal law enforcement officials could prioritize their removal.

For more on this story, read The Washington Times

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