(CNSNews.com) - Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Tae Johnson told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security on Thursday that—except for a limited number who are put in an “Alternatives to Detention” (ATD) program--his agency cannot track illegal aliens who are caught and then released into the United States.
Johnson made this concession in an exchange with Rep. Ashley Hinson (R.-Iowa).
“Today, can you confirm for me the ability--the inability, rather, for ICE to track illegal immigrants’ location and then their activity within the homeland on that person level following their release by CBP?” Hinson asked Johnson, who had discussed the issue earlier in a telephone call with Johnson.
“As I mentioned in our call, there's certainly some gaps in our ability to track everyone that's released in the interior,” Johnson said.
“For those individuals that are released on an Alternative to Detention, whether it's an ankle monitor or smart link or telephonic reporting, we have, you know, much better success at keeping track of those,” he said.
“But for individuals that are just released with notice--notification to report to ICE or to show up in court, then our ability to track those folks closely is much more limited,” Johnson said.
Johnson then said it was his “understanding” that when Customs and Border Protection releases an illegal alien inside the United States, their recording system does not report where that illegal alien is “proposing to reside” in the United States. Therefore, they cannot say how many of them, for example, are in Hinson’s home state of Iowa.
“Can you state for the record that you're not currently able to tell Iowans how many illegal immigrants are present in Iowa right now or how many CBP has released into the country with plans to be in Iowa?” asked Hinson.
“That is correct,” responded Johnson.
“I mean, and again, you know, I would want to just--that's my understanding,” he said. “I would like to start with--I would like to go back to CBP and just clarify that they are unable to pull data by state. But that is my understanding that their system of record will not sort of produce a report based on the states that the individuals that they're releasing are proposing to reside.”
A Congressional Research Service report published in 2019 explained the “Alternatives to Detention” program for illegal aliens.
“Since FY2004,Congress has appropriated funding to the Department of Homeland Security’s(DHS’s) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for an Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program to provide supervised release and enhanced monitoring for a subset of foreign nationals subject to removal whom ICE has released into the United States,” said the report.
“These aliens are not statutorily mandated to be in DHS custody, are not considered threats to public safety or national security, and have been released either on bond, their own recognizance, or parole pending a decision on whether they should be removed from the United States,” it said.
“Currently, ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) runs an ATD program called the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program III (ISAPIII),” said the CRS report. “On June 22, 2019, program enrollment included more than 100,000 foreign nationals, who are a sub group of ICE’s broader ‘non-detained docket’ of approximately 3 million aliens. Those in the non-detained docket include individuals the government has exercised discretion to release—for example, they are not considered a flight risk or there is a humanitarian reason for their release (as well as other reasons).”
“Individuals in the non-detained docket, and not enrolled in the ISAP III program, receive less-intensive supervision by ICE,” the report said.
Here is a transcript of Hinon’s exchange with Johnson about ICE’s tracking of illegal aliens released into the United States:
Rep. Ashely Hinson: “Thank you, Madam Chair. I appreciate you holding this hearing today. I did have the ability to speak with Acting Director Johnson earlier this week. So, thank you, again, for taking the time to meet with me earlier this week. My time today I'm going to devote to follow up questions from that conversation, as well as a few concerning issues that have been brought to my attention, specifically about ICE's activity or lack thereof in certain cases as well. These issues and a general lack of information are highly concerning to me, and we're going to follow up with the secretary when he's in in a few weeks, but on these issues must be addressed by ICE leadership and the administration. In my mind, it's part of our role to hold everybody accountable and make sure taxpayer dollars are spent effectively. So, Director Johnson, thank you, again, for your service and our frank conversation earlier this week. I also think it's important to note when members of this committee reach out to ask for answers, we're doing that not to create more work for you but because we are ultimately accountable to the American taxpayer and require those answers to be able to make truly informed decisions about how to spend those taxpayer dollars, their money.
“So, thank you for the responses I have already received. And I trust that you and your team are going to follow up on the existing--the other questions that we discussed in our call.
“We did talk about, in our call, the disconnect between ICE and Customs and Border Patrol, specifically when it comes to tracking illegal immigrants once they have been released into the United States. So, today, can you confirm for me the ability--the inability, rather, for ICE to track illegal immigrant's location and then their activity within the homeland on that person level following their release by CBP?”
Acting ICE Director Tae Johnson: “Sure, thanks, congresswoman. As I mentioned in our call, there's certainly some gaps in our ability to track everyone that's released in the interior. For those individuals that are released on an alternative to detention [ATD], whether it's an ankle monitor or smart link or telephonic reporting, we have, you know, much better success at keeping track of those. But for individuals that are just released with notice--notification to report to ICE or to show up in court, then our ability to track those folks closely is much more limited. And—”
Hinson: “So this gap you talk about why is it so much more challenging to track individuals now than it was in 2019?”
Johnson: “No, I don't think it was much more limited to track in 2019. The systems have been--the same systems are in place. And in 2019, when we were seeing a surge of family units that were being released, I mean, they were being released with a notice to appear. And not, you know, we couldn't enroll everyone on ATD, because the numbers were high just as they are now. So we were certainly running into those same issues in 2019 as we are today. That's not changed.”
Hinson: “Can you state for the record that you're not currently able to tell Iowans how many illegal immigrants are present in Iowa right now or how many CBP has released into the country with plans to be in Iowa?”
Johnson: “That is correct. I mean, and again, you know, I would want to just--that's my understanding. I would like to start with--I would like to go back to CBP and just clarify that they are unable to pull data by state. But that is my understanding that their system of record will not sort of produce a report based on the states that the individuals that they're releasing are proposing to reside.”
Hinson: “Right. And you say you want to go back to them, obviously, to confirm this. But do you believe that ICE should be able to provide this information? You know, obviously, we've got a gap here in communication if you can't and they can't. But do you believe Americans should know if illegal immigrants are in their neighborhood? Specifically, you talk about some of these risk categories. I think people deserve to know who's coming in.”
Johnson: "I agree. And--and we, you know, it should be possible for that information to be transferred over to an I--to ICE's system of record in a way that would allow us to--to track folks down to the state and, quite frankly, the cities that these individuals are living in. We just don't have that capability or capacity currently."
Hinson: "Okay, so why is that? I mean, is it lack of resources that you're not able to track individuals down to that in person level at this point?"
Johnson: "It--it is our--it's--it's the--the two systems. The one system that CBP uses and the one that ICE uses. It-- they just don't talk to each other in a meaningful way. So I do think it's, you know, getting some technology that will make this two systems talk would be extremely helpful. Or, you know, maybe we will have to just scrap the two systems that are being used and--ad start afresh with something that provides the--the sophistication that we--that we need to--to track folks."
Hinson: "Well, Director Johnson, I appreciate those answers. And I'll probably have a few more questions around you. But thank you. And Madam Chair, I yield back. Thank you."