Department of Homeland Security Releases Illegal Immigrant Data to Congress

DHS returns data subpoenaed by the Judiciary Committee after Rep. Lamar Smith threatened contempt.

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House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith's threat to hold Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in contempt of Congress last week paid off.

After more than a month of struggle between the committee and the Department of Homeland Security, today DHS responded to a November 4 subpoena demanding the names and identifying information of those who have been flagged by the immigration-status checking program Secure Communities yet not detained or placed in deportation hearings.

"I am pleased DHS has finally decided to work with the Committee and comply with the subpoena," Smith said in a press release. "The Department's cooperation is long overdue."

[Read: DHS Task Force Puts 'Secure Communities' at Risk.]

Smith and committee Republicans want the data so they can assess for themselves whether Immigration and Customs Enforcement was right to release the estimated 200,000 individuals pinged by Secure Communities but let go. They also want to discover whether there are illegal immigrants who have gone on to commit crimes after release among those numbers.

"The American people have a right to know what crimes hundreds of thousands of illegal and criminal immigrants have committed after ICE intentionally chose not to detain them," Smith said, adding that the information will be helpful to the committee in its oversight role over DHS and that it will "inform Congress on the problem of criminal immigrants and their effect on public safety."

However, not everyone flagged is necessarily a criminal or in the country illegally.

In jurisdictions with the Secure Communities program, any person fingerprinted by local law enforcement officials is run through both the standard FBI criminal database as well as a DHS database that checks immigration status. Critics of the program complain that not everyone fingerprinted by police has committed a crime—meaning victims of domestic violence and those reporting crimes can also be caught up in the deportation dragnet.

[Check out a roundup of political cartoons on immigration.]

And according to DHS, those estimated 200,000 people released may not all be illegal immigrants since the DHS database can return information on legal residents and naturalized U.S. citizens as well, something that raised privacy concerns for Judiciary Committee Democrats.

The subpoenaed data itself will not be made public due to those privacy concerns, and the Republican-led committee has not yet said whether it will release an analysis of the data.

"If the Committee reaches some statistical conclusions, that could be released down the road," a committee staffer said in an E-mail.