By Stephen Dinan
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Published April 15, 2005
One million people facing immigration proceedings have been released into the
general population, the government's chief of detention and removal told the
Senate yesterday , prompting some Republicans to say the Bush administration is
"not serious" about the problem.
"We have a million individuals who are in some
phase of immigration proceedings released," said Victor X. Cerda, the
acting director of detention and removal operations for U.S. Immigration and
Customs Enforcement (ICE).
He said of those people, 465,000 are fugitive aliens who
have been ordered deported. About 80,000 of those are criminal aliens who have
committed an offense in addition to immigration violations, but he couldn't
provide an exact number.
His comments came as an immigration debate in the Senate
blocked most progress on the emergency war-spending bill. Pending amendments
include cracking down on illegal immigrants' use of driver's licenses,
increasing visas for seasonal nonimmigrant workers and legalizing up to 1
million illegal aliens who work in agriculture and their families.
Yesterday's hearing, before two subcommittees of the
Judiciary Committee, is supposed to lay the groundwork for a comprehensive
immigration bill, said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and chairman of the
immigration subcommittee, which held the hearing along with Sen. Jon Kyl of
Arizona, chairman of the terrorism subcommittee.
"No serious discussion of comprehensive immigration
reform is possible without a review of our nation's ability to effectively
secure its borders and enforce its immigration laws," Mr. Cornyn said.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, and Sen. Tom
Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, demanded to know why Mr. Cerda was not doing more
to have illegal aliens removed.
Mr. Sessions said ICE is far behind in entering the
names of the 465,000 alien fugitives into law-enforcement databases, which means
that if those people are picked up in another arrest, they would not be turned
over to immigration authorities.
Jonathan Cohn, a deputy assistant attorney general, told
the panel that court decisions over the years will result in the government
having to release dangerous criminal aliens as well.
"The aliens that are being released include
murderers, rapists and child molesters," Mr. Cohn said.
Members of the subcommittees also ended up taking sides
on whether the Minutemen patrolling the Arizona border are
"vigilantes," as President Bush called them.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said he
agreed with Mr. Bush's characterization, and told Mr. Cerda to let him know what
the Department of Homeland Security's policy was on dealing with vigilantes.