A top Democratic lawmaker warned Wednesday that an effort by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith to obtain crime data on illegal immigrants could backfire by revealing information on legal residents and immigrants who haven't committed any crimes.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the ranking member of the committee's immigration panel, said a pending subpoena from Smith asking the Department of Homeland Security to release crime stats to the committee could be a violation of privacy.
"While the substance of the request raises some legitimate issues within our oversight jurisdiction," Lofgren conceded at a subcommittee hearing Wednesday, "I have some reservations about its scope."
The subpoena—which the subcommittee approved on a party-line 7-to-4 vote—would demand a list of what Smith said are an estimated 300,000 "illegal and criminal immigrants" DHS has identified but has failed to detain.
Smith requested the information in August as part of his committee's oversight role over DHS. The agency indicated they'd hand over the information in September, but later declined to fulfill the request saying that "ICE does not track this data for those individuals for whom ICE has not initiated enforcement action."
In a letter sent to Smith just before the hearing, DHS indicated it is working hard to meet the chairman's request to the best of its ability. Republicans on the subcommittee saw this as another effort to string them along.
"They are on the verge of obstructing the legitimate role of Congress," Smith said at the hearing. "The American people have a right to know what crimes these 300,000 illegal immigrants committed after ICE intentionally chose not the detain them."
But DHS explained in a letter that a "hit" within the database used by the so-called "Secure Communities" immigration status-checking program does not necessarily mean that an individual is in the country illegally.
"For instance," the letter said, "a naturalized U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident may generate a 'hit.'"
During the meeting, Lofgren mentioned that the FBI also had privacy concerns over releasing the data.
Committee Republicans confirmed the data would not be released to the public, but Lofgren reaffirmed later in an email, "I don't know what information they have, but if the FBI—not known as a leader in privacy protection—has serious concerns, then we should pay attention to that."
Democrats in the committee also raised concerns that it was too soon to issue a subpoena since DHS says it will cooperate, and they also suggested it would be bad form to indicate to the American people that the committee and the agency were clashing.
According to his press office, Smith intends to issue the subpoena this week.