Homeland Security officials misled the public and Congress last year in an effort to downplay a wave of immigration case dismissals in Houston and other cities amid accusations that they had created a "back-door amnesty," newly released records show.
The records, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, include a series of internal memos from Immigration and Customs Enforcement's chief counsel in Houston dated last August ordering attorneys to review all new, incoming cases and thousands already pending on the immigration court docket and to file paperwork to dismiss any that did not meet the agency's "top priorities." (Read documents from the FOIA request here.)
The secretive review process resulted in the dismissal of hundreds of cases in Houston, most of them involving illegal immigrants who had lived in the United States for years without committing serious crimes.
A string of emails shows the dismissals had the blessings of top attorneys at ICE headquarters in Washington, D.C., last summer and that other ICE legal offices across the country were encouraged to consider measures to better use the agency's limited resources to target dangerous criminals.
The records also document for the first time that the agency quietly rescinded the Houston memo on Aug. 25 — the day the Houston Chronicle broke the story on the dismissals — amid allegations from conservatives that the Obama administration had created a stealth amnesty program for illegal immigrants.
ICE public affairs officials in Washington initially refused either to confirm or deny the dismissals, and then told several news outlets that they affected only a very narrow class of illegal immigrants with pending green card applications described in a different agency memo. After Senate Judiciary Committee members demanded an investigation last fall into the Houston dismissals, Homeland Security officials reiterated the same claim they made to the media.
However, the newly released documents show conclusively that government attorneys in Houston were given wide latitude to file motions to dismiss cases, including some involving immigrants with convictions for primarily misdemeanor offenses.
"It now appears that DHS attempted to mislead the public and Congress on its policy of directing dismissals of cases against criminal aliens," said Jessica Sandlin, Sen. John Cornyn's Texas press secretary. "After this failed attempt at stonewalling and obstruction of the public's right to know, the truth is now coming out
Report: Feds downplayed ICE case dismissals | Chronicle | Chron.com - Houston Chronicle