House panel urges faster deportation of jailed illegal immigrants

In their first budget hearing of this year, members of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Tuesday demanded that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau give much higher priority to the deportation of criminal illegal immigrants held in U.S. jails and behaving more humanely in conducting operations. House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman David Price, D-N.C., and ranking member Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said ICE faces difficulty identifying all illegal immigrants among the millions of people held in about 5,000 federal, state and local jails across the country. Price said the jails hold about 600,000 criminal illegal immigrants but at its current pace ICE will take up to five years to deport them all.

"I'm worried that many of these [illegal immigrants] are still remaining unidentified," he said. "It appears that at the rate you're going it will take four to five years to find them all." Price said deportations of the incarcerated illegal immigrants increased 7 percent from 2005 to 2007, while deportations of undocumented immigrants without criminal records increased more than 70 percent.

"It's not acceptable to have people who we know are capable and willing to harm our citizens ... to be back out on the street," he said. Price noted that Congress gave ICE $200 million to be used during fiscal 2008 and fiscal 2009 to find and deport illegal immigrants in the prison system. But he said he was surprised that ICE's fiscal 2009 budget request does not seek any new funds for the effort.

ICE Director Julie Myers defended her agency's deportation efforts, saying the agency is issuing a significantly higher number of documents charging the imprisoned illegal immigrants with deportable offenses. About 200,000 such documents will be issued in 2008, compared with 57,000 in 2006, she said. Myers declined to offer a timetable for how long it will take to deport those illegal immigrants. But she did not say Price's five-year timeline is wrong. One of the main challenges for ICE, according to Myers, is tapping into FBI databases that use biometrics, such as fingerprints, to identify illegals who pose the greatest risk. She said ICE wants to use technology instead of having individual agents go to jails and interview each illegal immigrant.

Tensions mounted during the hearing when some Democrats questioned how ICE conducts work-site raids and how the agency handles children and people who need medical care. Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., accused ICE of acting like Nazi Germany's Gestapo when conducting raids. Myers defended ICE employees, saying she would not tolerate the accusation. "We are not the Gestapo," she said, interrupting Farr. "The men and women of this agency have a very difficult job ... and I think they do that with distinction and great honor." Rogers added: "That's not called for here, Mr. Farr. These are proud, hard-working people." Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., said it appears ICE is most interested in targeting and deporting Mexicans.

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