By JOEL GEHRKE • 8/29/16 5:33 PM

Department of Homeland Security officials released a Honduran national who was in the country illegally due to a "clerical error," just days before he stole a car from two elderly women and led police on a high-sped chase earlier this month.

House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., detailed the incident in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials told Goodlatte that they released the man, Eduardo Irhneis Escobar, due to a "clerical error" eight days before the August 16 attack, despite a prior conviction for felony assault.

That prompted Goodlatte to use the case to explore whether President Obama's policy of targeting violent criminals for deportation is being carried out.

"[I]t would appear that ICE was aware that Escobar was an illegally present, removable alien with a felony assault conviction in 2014, if not before," Goodlatte wrote. "So, it is incomprehensible that Escobar was not held in ICE custody pending proceedings to seek his removal from the United States. Instead, he was allowed to remain at large and brutally rob and attack these vulnerable victims."

Such cases have become a regular feature of the immigration debate this year, as lawmakers and GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump highlighted instances of crimes committed by illegal immigrants in sanctuary cities in order to criticize Obama's immigration policies. Federal officials have responded by criticizing sanctuary cities. Over the weekend, ICE touted the arrest of three immigrants previously released by Philadelphia authorities to emphasize the crackdown on criminals.

But those efforts could be undermined in much of the country by a recent ruling in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which found that a federal law allowing the indefinite detention of certain criminal migrants pending deportation is only applicable if federal law enforcement officials take them into custody immediately after they are released by local officials. If there is a delay, then the immigrants have the right to be released on bond, according to the court.

Senate Republicans want Attorney General Loretta Lynch to appeal that ruling. "It is a clear and unavoidable duty of the Department of Justice to defend vigorously the lawful statutes passed by Congress, and to have them interpreted as intended," Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., wrote to Lynch last week.