DHS Under Fire for Threats to Whistleblower Border Agents, ‘Catch and Release’ Allegations

4 May 2016

The Department of Homeland Security has demonstrated a “troubling pattern” of threatening immigration officials who highlight the Obama administration’s “non-enforcement” immigration policies, according to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA).

In a letter to DHS Sec. Jeh Johnson, Goodlatte recounted a a recent example of the administration’s propensity to resort to intimidation tactics and pressed the Homeland Security chief on allegations that top officials have instructed Border Patrol agents to implement a “catch and release” policy that is antithetical to the administration’s immigration enforcement priorities.

The allegation and question of intimidation stems from the February appearance of National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd before a House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security hearing. Judd testified that DHS has instituted an unwritten policy requiring Border Patrol agents to release illegal immigrants apprehended at the border without placing them in removal proceedings, if the illegal immigrants do not have a felony conviction and claim to have been in the U.S. since January 2014 — a policy in direct contraction of the administration’s public immigration enforcement “priorities.”

The following month, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowski denied Judd’s allegations before the House Appropriations Committee and warned that agents who do not listen to their superiors “really do need to look for another job.”

“Commissioner Kerlikowski’s thinly veiled threat to terminate Border Patrol agents who voice concerns about the policy of releasing recent unlawful entrants — aliens who this Administration has designated as enforcement priorities — is distressing. This follows similar comments from President Obama in 2015, who warned that there would be ‘consequences’ for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers who do not follow his non-enforcement policies,” Goodlatte wrote.

The Virginia lawmaker added that the threats have a “chilling effect” on immigration enforcement officials’ ability to do their law enforcement mission.

“Unquestionably, this Administration has exhibited a troubling pattern of threats and intimidation toward the very agents and officers whose missions is to secure the border, stem the flow of unlawful immigration, and protect the homeland from terrorist and public safety threats. Their jobs are difficult and dangerous enough, with the threat of termination looming over their every action,” he wrote.

In written responses submitted to Congress in late March, Judd revealed that DHS Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas confirmed the “catch and release” policy he alleged during an August 26, 2015 meeting. When Judd and other Border Patrol agents expressed concerns about the policy, according to Judd, Mayorkas said “Why would we [issue a Notice to Appear to] those we have no intention of deporting? We should not place someone in deportation proceedings, when the courts already have a 3-6 year backlog.”

As Goodlatte wrote to Johnson, “If he did in fact make those statement, Deputy Secretary Mayorkas’ statements confirm Agent Judd’s testimony before the Subcommittee that some aliens apprehended at the border are being released and not even being placed in removal proceedings, despite Commissioner Kerlikowski’s statements to the contrary,” he wrote.

In a separate letter to Mayorkas, also dated Wednesday, Goodlatte pressed the deputy secretary on Judd’s allegations and his apparent confirmation of the “catch and release” policy.

“Releasing aliens without placing them in removal proceedings upon the mere claim that they have been present in the U.S. since January 1, 2014, will obviously encourage massive fraud,” he wrote to Mayorkas. “Border Patrol agents have informed the Subcommittee that water-soaked aliens apprehended in the immediate vicinity of the Rio Grande River must be released upon making this claim.”

Goodlatte requested additional information by May 18 about the alleged policy and for Mayorkas to either a confirm or deny the comments Judd attributed to him that appear to confirm the “catch and release” mandate.