A watchdog for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is concerned immigration officials are letting known or suspected terrorists slip through the cracks.
A recent DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) report found Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not continue to screen 2.37 million undocumented migrants that have been released from ICE custody, but are still under agency supervision.
“There’s apparently been no follow up to periodically check on these people and see if the FBI or other law enforcement or intelligence agencies in the United States have come up with subsequent information indicating that the person is becoming radicalized and is in some way a danger," said researcher for the Center for Immigration Studies and former ICE officer Dan Cadman.
The OIG also tested 40 of 142 cases of undocumented migrants identified as known or suspected terrorists, and found every case had at least one policy error, which made the watchdog doubt ICE is accurately identifying undocumented migrants that could pose a threat to national security.
ICE policy did not require agents to continue screening after they release supervised undocumented migrants from custody, but the OIG now recommends the protocol be expanded to include those migrants.
ICE agreed with the recommendations and plans to internally assess if more resources are needed to obtain this goal, but visiting scholar at Columbia Law School Sahar Aziz said putting more resources to fix this issue might not be worth it.
“Terrorism is very appealing to the public’s emotions. It’s easy to strike fear into people and cause them to act in ways that are not necessarily the best interest in how we use our resources," Aziz said.
She said terrorism is not as big of a deal as the report suggests.
“That is an extraordinary number of people for which to engage in continuous checks, which is what the report argues for, so at some point the amount of resources to do that is not worth it, particularly in light of the fact that there simply is not a commensurate risk or danger to society," Aziz said.
In the report, ICE blamed human error and a lack of knowledge about the policy, but Cadman, who disagrees with Sahar that the report does not point to a possible security risk, said the errors might not be all ICE’s fault.
“ICE EROs, engagement removal operations offices still lack the equipment to do the searches. They don’t have the platforms which to undertake searches of the necessary classified information systems. And so, it’s not a surprise in some ways that it became onerous for those officers to undertake the checks routinely," Cadman said.
The OIG’s investigation found the majority of ICE offices did not have access to DHS networks that allowed agents to view or share information about known or suspected terrorists.
The report also indicated the lack of local and state law enforcement agencies cooperating with ICE hampered the agency’s ability to continue screening the supervised migrants. About 675 jurisdictions across the country declined to work with ICE concerning over 29,000 undocumented migrants from 2014 to 2017, according to the report.
“When a state or local law enforcement agency declines to transfer custody of a removable criminal alien to ICE, the released alien may put the public and ERO personnel at risk and requires significantly more resources to bring the individual into ICE custody,” the report said.
“They don’t have a lot of control if a local or state government says we are not going to give you access to the data that you need to vet these people,” Cadman said.
But Sahar said she thinks the OIG only included this in the report to take a jab at sanctuary cities, and law enforcement should not be working with ICE.
“It deters people from reporting crimes, particularly domestic violence and other types of violent crimes, because they are more concerned about possibly being deported or sent to ICE, as opposed to assuring that their neighborhoods or their homes are safe," Aziz said.
After the OIG’s investigation, ICE found at least 19 more cases of undocumented migrants identified as known or suspected terrorists with errors in the last year.