“He should not have received DACA. I believe on balance DACA is a good program. I also believe that this case is a tragic case, and this individual should not have received DACA. I cannot state that in stronger terms,” Johnson said in response to questioning by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
Rangel-Hernandez was charged in February with murdering 19-year-old “America’s Next Top Model” contestant Mirjana Puhar and two others Charlotte, N.C. Prior to that, he had been charged with marijuana possession according to a arrest affidavit from March 30, 2012. He was referred for DACA according to a court order dated Dec. 18, 2013 despite being in removal proceedings since his drug charge.
“I want to ask you about Mr. Rangel-Hernandez, a gang member that committed those murders I referred to. According to your April 17 response to me and Mr. Tillis, Mr. Rangel-Hernandez’ application should have gone through several layers of review, including by U.S. Citizenship Immigration Services’ background check unit,” Grassley told Johnson at the Homeland Security Oversight hearing.
“Because of his gang affiliation, the department’s headquarters should also have reviewed the case. Thus, the adjudicator would only be able to approve such an application after a sign off from Washington leadership. There was obviously a lapse, but it’s unclear who dropped the ball,” Grassley added.
“First question, why was Mr. Rangel-Hernandez approved for deferred action despite his known gang ties. In other words, which office was responsible for approving the DACA applicant, and was it the adjudicator, the background check unit or USCIS headquarters?” Grassley asked.
After acknowledging that Rangel-Hernandez should not have received DACA, Johnson said as a result of that case, “the entire workforce that deals with these cases” has been re-trained “to make sure that they identify trouble signs, such as suspected membership in criminal gangs.”
“If you’re a known member of a criminal gang, you should not be receiving DACA. You should be considered a priority for removal, so we re-trained the force, and we’ve done a retrospective review of every DACA case, every DACA participant to see whether there are any similar to this case,” Johnson added.
Some cases similar to Rangel-Hernandez’s case have been identified, Johnson said, “and we continue to evaluate this to make sure that we’ve reduced situations like this to zero in the DACA program.”
“I’m interested in deporting criminals, sir, and that’s one of the reasons we have engaged in things like Operation Cross Check, which is interior enforcement. This is an operation conducted several weeks ago, where we rounded up some 2,000 priorities for removal. So I’m interested in getting at the criminals, sir, but this case is a tragic case, and he should not have received DACA,” Johnson added.
When asked who made the mistake in the Rangel-Hernandez case, Johnson said he didn’t know the name of the unit, but he believed it occurred “once he was referred to those who normally conduct background checks.”
“And you just talked about a zero tolerance policy, and I guess it would appear to me that you don’t have a zero tolerance policy, and you just told me you do have. So I guess in the future then we would expect things like this not to happen,” Grassley said.
“In the future, I am interested in deporting criminals, including those who’ve committed crimes, who are in the DACA program. They are priorities for removal,” Johnson responded.
Grassley then brought up another similar case in Tempe, Ariz., which he mentioned in an April 9th letter to Johnson, but has yet to receive a response.
In March, 23-year-old Jose Bojorquez, also a DACA recipient, was arrested on suspicion of second-degree murder in the death of Adrian Salazar, whose body was found in the driver’s seat of a car. A witness told police they saw Bojorquez get out of the vehicle before it crashed into the witness’s vehicle. Bojorquez gave police a fake name when first questioned.
Grassley asked Johnson if he would respond to his letter about Bojorquez by May 1, and Johnson promised “a prompt response.”