Republican Threatens Legal Action Against DHS Over Immigrant-Data Subpoena

A top House Republican is threatening to enforce a subpoena for criminal immigrant information "to the fullest extent" of the law, after claiming the Obama administration "stonewalled" his request.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith for months has been seeking a comprehensive list of names and other information for the thousands of immigrants who are flagged, but not taken into custody or deported through a program known as Secure Communities.

Earlier this month, a subcommittee on his panel subpoenaed the Department of Homeland Security for the information, claiming it was "not acting in good faith." It was the first subpoena issued by the committee since it came under GOP control.

The department ended up turning over documents by a Nov. 10 deadline -- but Smith claimed all he received was a list of numbers.

"Instead of providing this information, all DHS gave was a list numbered 1 through 220,995. Proving the administration can count is not what we asked for," Smith said in a statement.

He wrote a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Friday urging her to "immediately comply" with the subpoena.

"If you do not, the committee will be forced to seek enforcement of the subpoena to the fullest extent allowed by the law," Smith wrote.

Secure Communities is a program that allows federal immigration officials to check the names and fingerprints of suspects booked at federal, state and local jails against their immigration databases.

Republicans want detailed information about criminal immigrants who were not pursued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, so they can then check their records and see if they went on to commit more crimes.

Smith said he received a sprawling list from the department on Nov. 10 that included just three things for each entry -- a "unique ID," a date and time for each "encounter," and the national origin for a few hundred of them. He said the "unique ID" was merely a number, from 1 to 220,955, which he described as "useless."

The Department of Homeland Security said it is trying to comply with Smith's requests.

"DHS previously told to the committee it would provide the data requested without being compelled by subpoena. We have begun to provide that data as it becomes available and will continue to do so," DHS spokesman Matthew Chandler said in a statement Saturday.

Chandler stressed that ICE removed 216,000 criminal immigrants in fiscal 2011, described as an 89 percent increase from 2008.

According to DHS, more than 107,000 immigrants convicted of crimes have been removed after being flagged through Secure Communities.

The number represents a fraction of all immigrants flagged through the program. But DHS claims many immigrants who are flagged could not be arrested or deported.

Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Nelson Peacock earlier wrote a letter explaining to Smith that many of the immigrants whose names show up in their system through Secure Communities are legal and would simply not count as a "removable alien."

He said, for instance, that naturalized U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents could show up. Peacock also noted that ICE would not take somebody into custody if they are already serving time for a criminal offense.

Smith, though, wrote in his letter to Napolitano that it appears that either DHS "never planned to comply" with his request or that the White House intervened for "political reasons."