ICE Immigration Sweep Catches Dreamers with Criminal Records

March 13, 2015 Updated: March 14, 2015

Two linked but contradictory stories came out on Thursday, and both have to do with Dreamers.

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement arrested 15 people who had been allowed to remain in the country under President Barack Obama’s executive action intended to protect children who entered with their parents. The arrests were part of a sweep meant to target the most dangerous criminal immigrants.

It’s remarkable that the administration sought to restart its planned expansion of the deferred deportation program at the same time that ICE did a sweep to arrest people to be deported.

At the same time, the Department of Justice sought to expand the executive action that protects immigrants, filing an emergency motion March 12 to lift a court injunction that has halted the programs before they can go into effect. Critics of the program have said the executive actions are an unconstitutional overreach by the executive branch.  The administration counters that it has always had jurisdiction over how law enforcement priorities are carried out.

Texas District Court Judge Andrew Hanen ruled that Obama’s expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative and the creation of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Legal Residents (DAPA) initiative could cause states irreparable harm, because the cost of benefits granted would be hard to recoup later if the executive action were to be found unconstitutional by a court.

Not How It’s Supposed to Work

No one covered by DACA is supposed to have a criminal history. It is meant to provide temporary legal status to people who have worked, gone to school, and contributed to society, so that they can pay into Social Security, get a driver’s license, and go to college. That a few people covered by the program did have criminal records is not the way the program is supposed to work.

Fourteen of the 15 had been convicted of a crime, the Homeland Security Department confirmed late Thursday. In at least one case, the Obama administration renewed the protective status for a young immigrant after that person’s conviction in a drug case, a U.S. official briefed on the arrests said.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because this person was not authorized to discuss the matter by name.

It was not immediately clear when 13 of the immigrants were convicted, or what their crimes were. The answers to those questions could undermine the integrity of the government’s program, since eligibility is reserved for ambitious, young immigrants enrolled in school or who graduated from college and would benefit American society.

None of the names of the immigrants was disclosed. One of the young immigrants arrested hadn’t been convicted of a crime, but was arrested after being found armed with a gun, the official said.

The Homeland Security department said eight other people arrested during the sweep had received protective status at one point, including three who had it revoked. The department did not provide additional details.

Under the DACA program, more than 675,000 young immigrants since August 2012 have been granted a work permit and reprieve from deportation.

“With few fraud detection measures and effective background checks in place, it’s no surprise that ICE arrested over a dozen DACA recipients last week, most of whom had already been convicted of a crime,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte. “I and other members of the House Judiciary Committee have expressed concern about this for years.”

If so few out of the thousands of people in the DACA program had criminal records, it need not call the whole program into question, according to Helen Kim Ho.” That’s a little bit of an overreach.” She is executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a civil rights group based in Atlanta, Ga.  

Earlier this week ICE Director Sarah Saldana said the operation focused on “the worst of the worst criminals.”

“This was a targeted enforcement operation, aimed specifically at enhancing public safety,” Saldana said. “It exemplifies our core mission, by taking dangerous criminals off the streets and removing them from the country we are addressing a very significant security and public safety vulnerability.”

ICE agents arrested 2,059 convicted immigrants, including more than 1,000 people who had multiple convictions. More than 98 percent of those arrested in the weeklong operation were a top priority, Saldana said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report