The Obama administration has admitted that an illegal immigrant and known gang member -- who recently was charged in the murders of four people -- was allowed to remain in the United States under President Obama's executive actions.
Emmanuel Jesus Rangel-Hernandez was allowed in August 2013 to remain in the U.S., following his request about seven months earlier to stay under the president's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Leon Rodriguez.
Rodriquez acknowledged in a letter to a top Republican senator that Rangel-Hernandez's application was approved, even though a federal crime database indicated he was a "known gang member."
"Based on the standard procedures and protocols in place at the time, the DACA request and related employment authorization should not have been approved," said Rodriguez, in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who had raised questions about the case.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki, in an interview Wednesday on Fox News, declined to address the Rangel-Hernandez case specifically -- or whether illegal immigrants who engage in criminal activity are being allowed to stay in the U.S. under DACA or similar executive actions. (DACA is intended to give a deportation reprieve to some illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.)
"Let me tell you what DACA is about," Psaki told Fox News. "It's not about not only giving a path [to citizenship] to individuals who are in the United States. It's morally right. ... I can't go into detail on every specific case. This is something that there are a number of steps in place that we take to look at who benefits from it."
Rangel-Hernandez, originally from Mexico, is now charged with first-degree murder in connection with the killings in February in North Carolina of four people, including former "America's Next Top Model" contestant Mirjana Puhar.
"This statement by USCIS confirms what we have feared -- that USCIS is not doing a thorough job reviewing the individuals who it allows to stay in this country under the president's deferred action program" Grassley said in a written statement.
"It's no secret that USCIS staff is under intense pressure to approve every DACA application that comes across their desk. And based on this information, it's clear that adequate protocols are not in place to protect public safety. The fact is that this tragedy could have been avoided if the agency had a zero-tolerance policy with regard to criminal aliens and gang members."
At the time his request was considered, Rangel-Hernandez already was in deportation proceedings. He earlier came to the attention of Immigration and Customs Enforcement after a 2012 arrest for marijuana possession, for which the charges were subsequently dismissed.
Rodriguez, in his letter, said there is "no indication" that immigration officers were aware at that time he was a known gang member. However, he said a separate database indicated he was. He said USCIS has provided new training.