DHS Secretary Johnson Not Doing Everything in His Power to Prevent the Release of Criminal Aliens

By Jon Feere on May 30, 2014

At a hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee on Thursday, members of Congress questioned Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on a number of issues. Many of the questions were focused on the Obama administration's controversial immigration policies.

One issue that came up involved a section of federal law (8 U.S.C. § 1253) that requires the State Department to stop issuing visas to citizens of countries that refuse to take back their citizens when the United States attempts to deport them. The law comes into effect when the DHS secretary consults with the State Department about difficulty deporting someone.

DHS Sec. Jeh Johnson

It has rarely been invoked, however. In fact, Johnson's predecessor Janet Napolitano was questioned about this law during a hearing in November 2011 and Napolitano admitted that she had never invoked the law. As illustrated in the exchange below, Secretary Johnson seems to have admitted that he also has never invoked the law.

The reason this is problematic is that the Obama administration has partially blamed its shocking release of criminal aliens on judicial rulings such as a Supreme Court decision from 2001 that limited the length of time an alien can be detained. The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) estimates that 3,000 of the released criminal aliens were what the administration described as court-ordered. As explained in a CIS Backgrounder, the Supreme Court generally requires the government to release aliens from detention after six months if there is "no significant likelihood of removal in the reasonably foreseeable future". Had the administration actually invoked the visa statute, however, and threatened to stop issuing visas to the countries refusing to take back their citizens, it likely would have created a significant increase in removals and allowed for longer detention and eventual deportation.

Instead of invoking this law, the Obama administration has simply released thousands of dangerous criminal aliens into our neighborhoods.

Congressman Ted Poe (R-Texas) asked Secretary Johnson about this law and requested a report from him on the matter. The exchange takes place an hour and 50 minutes into the hearing, which is available here.

POE: My understanding is your department has the authority, obligation to report to the State Department those countries that do not comply with repatriation. In other words, a person commits a crime in the United States, they're a foreign national ... they go to prison, they're ordered deported back to where they came from, when they get out of prison and countries don't take them back — why would they? They've got enough criminals of their own.

The law says that under some circumstances after you make a recommendation to the State Department, that those countries can lose visas.

Do you know of any time that that has happened in recent years? Where that has actually been made somebody won't take them back — China is a good example of those that don't take them back, there are other countries, Vietnam — where they refuse to take them back and that country lost diplomatic visas or any kind of visas because of their failure to take them back?"

JOHNSON: I know that there was a case several years ago; I've forgotten the country. (crosstalk) It was a country, I've forgotten which country, but I know that that occurred several years ago.

POE: Would you give us an accurate report on that, when the last time that actually occurred, when the recommendation was made?

JOHNSON: Yes, yes, yes.

POE: It seems to me this problem is going to continue when countries don't have any sanction, punishment if you will, for failure to take back their lawfully deported criminals.

If and when DHS Secretary Johnson responds to Rep. Poe, this post will be updated with any publicly released documents.