March 04, 2020

Harris Grills DHS Acting Secretary, Secures DHS Commitment to Reveal DACA Contingency Plans

To view video of Harris’ questioning, click here.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, on Wednesday secured a commitment from Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Chad Wolf that DHS would provide the committee with all ICE plans regarding the possible rulings in the Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California case currently pending in the Supreme Court of the United States. In her questioning of Wolf, Harris pressed for answers on deporting DACA recipients, who know no other home and contribute to their communities. Wolf claimed DHS does not plan to deport DACA recipients, rather the focus will be on removing criminals.

What I’m trying to understand is this – there are many organizations out there right now who have as their business to concern themselves with the wellbeing of immigrants, who are very concerned and making contingency plans based on what the Supreme Court might rule. I find it hard to believe that your agency is not also making contingency plans around what might be 3 to 4 scenarios in terms of what the Supreme Court would rule. Are you telling me that you don’t have any contingency plans?” Harris asked.

“No, I’m not saying that,” responded Wolf. “I’m saying that our focus will remain on removing criminals from our community.”

Can you share with this committee your contingency plans based on what might be the Supreme Court ruling?” Harris asked.

“I will go back to ICE and we will look at that, yes,” responded Wolf.

“And can you have that to us by the end of next week please? Harris asked.

“Let me check– let me confer with ICE,” responded Wolf. “I have not seen those contingency plans personally, so let me look with ICE and review those – and we’ll get those up.”

“And you’ll get those to the committee?” Harris asked.

“We will get those to the committee,” responded Wolf.

Full transcript of Harris’ questioning is below:

HARRIS: Thank you and I join my colleagues in terms of our collective and non-partisan concern about the coronavirus. I just received, this afternoon, word that we have an elderly individual in California who has passed away from the coronavirus and of course my prayers are with their family.

Mr. Chairman, also, California is seeing the first signs of potential drought and wildfire season has already started, but the committee –our committee – has not had a formal FEMA hearing and oversight hearing since April of 2018. So this is 22 months later – and during that time we have had at least 2 devastating wildfire seasons in California, flooding across the Midwest, and earthquakes in Puerto Rico. We clearly need an oversight hearing, and I am requesting that we have one as soon as possible and I look forward to working with you to make that happen.

Mr. Secretary, last year Chief Justice Roberts said that the administration has “said they’re not going to deport” DACA recipients and instead “work authorization and these other benefits are what’s at stake.” Yet in January, acting ICE director Albence said that "if DACA is done away with by the Supreme Court – we can actually effectuate these removal orders.” So that sounds to me like if the Supreme Court rules in your favor that you’re going to start deporting DACA recipients. Does the administration plan to deport DACA recipients? 

WOLF: That would not be our priority, no.

HARRIS: Are you considering deporting DACA recipients?

WOLF: No, of course we’d have to look at the totality. If there are individuals that fall out of status and commit crimes. There are a number of reasons why we would perhaps identify, target, and remove individuals. So it is very hard to say a blanket yes or a blanket no.

HARRIS: Can I take away from that statement that if they’ve not committed any crimes and half remained productive members of our community that they will not be targeted with deportation?

WOLF: Well, again they would not be targeted. We focus our time, attention, and resources on removing criminals from the general public.

HARRIS: Is this the case regardless of what the Supreme Court returns?

WOLF: I would say yes that’s our priority day in and day out, week in and week out – removing criminals. But what I will also say is, obviously, we’ve got to enforce the law as it’s written. So, when we get final orders of removal, we’re gonna effectuate those as well. But again, we have limited resources, we’ve have to target those resources. And we target those towards criminals.

HARRIS: Does your agency have any plans to change what you’ve been doing as it relates to DACA recipients that have remained productive law abiding members of their community based on the ruling of the Supreme Court that we expect to have any day or a month now?

WOLF: Again, it’s hard for me to say yes or no in a blanket. Obviously, they have a certain legality to be here in the U.S. If that is changed, we obviously have to access that. But again, what I’m telling you is – our focus will remain on removing criminals from the general public. 

HARRIS: Ok, but what I’m trying to understand is this – there are many organizations out there right now who have as their business to concern themselves with the wellbeing of immigrants, who are very concerned and making contingency plans based on what the Supreme Court might rule. I find it very hard to believe that your agency is not also making contingency plans around what might be 3 to 4 scenarios in terms of what the Supreme Court would rule. Are you telling me that you don’t have any contingency plans?

WOLF: No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying that our focus will remain on removing criminals from our community.

HARRIS: Can you share with this committee your contingency plans based on what might be the Supreme Court ruling?

WOLF: I will go back to ICE and we will look at that, yes.

HARRIS: And can you have that to us by the end of next week please?

WOLF: Let me check…let me confer with ICE. I have not seen those contingency plans personally, so let me look with ICE and review those – and we’ll get those up.

HARRIS: And you’ll get those to the committee?

WOLF: We will get those to the committee.

HARRIS: Thank you. According to Human Rights organizations there have been at least 1001 reported cases of murder, rape, torture, and kidnapping against people that have been sent to Mexico under the administration – the Trump administration’s – Remain in Mexico policy. This number includes 228 children who were kidnapped or nearly kidnapped according to the report, the places you've been sending them include cities that the State Department has put on the do not travel list for American citizens, because those places are just not safe. Many experts believe that the administration's policy of sending people to Mexico under this policy was intended to deter these people from returning to the US to seek asylum. Is it your intention to send these people to a place so horrible that they give up their quest to seek asylum and refuge in the United States?

WOLF: No, I are design with migrant protection protocols is to make sure that we are able to effectuate the immigration process and a quick manner, to render those who  have a meritorious claim they can get their hearing heard in a matter of months versus years. And those that have a false claim, again…

HARRIS: I understand the purpose of the process, but the effect of the process has been that 1001 human beings have been subject – and those are just the reports –  have been subject to extreme violence. In fact, I've sent a letter to you to your office, along with 23 other United States senators, describing what has happened, including that there was a 23 year old woman and her five year old daughter who were kidnapped and then released but threatened with death if they did not pay ransom. The letter describes a 20 year old woman who was grabbed in the street and sexually assaulted after she was returned under this policy to Mexico. The letter describes a 21 year old who was robbed at knifepoint and stabbed in the back and the Mexican police would not help him. It has been seven months since we sent your agency this letter we have not received a response.

My question to you is have you investigated any of these complaints? And if so, why do you continue to Maintain a policy that is exposing human beings to this kind of violence when they are simply coming here seeking asylum and refuge from harm?

WOLF: So the department has always maintained that the journey north for many of these individuals is very dangerous and so we're taking a number of policies and procedures to reduce that dangerous journey north.

HARRIS: What are you going? Please tell us what you’re doing?

WOLF: To reduce the pull factors we’re also working with the government of Mexico to again, we've sent to the Department of State over $22 million. Shared that through a number of NGOs like UNHCR and IOM, with the government Mexico to build up their shelter capacity specifically for MPP.

HARRIS: Are you aware that these complaints include incidents that are occurring in those shelters? Are you aware of the 10001 cases?

WOLF: I'm aware of that report? Yes, I'm aware of the overall violence again on the journey north as they make this journey north which is why we have been encouraging these individuals to seek protection as close to home as possible.

HARRIS: With respect, sir, because I'm running out of time. I understand your point about the journey north. But I'm explaining to you that the report indicates after they've made the journey north, coming here to seek asylum, we are sending them back to Mexico under a policy that is being administered by your agency, and it is upon that return, that they are being exposed to rape, to murder to kidnap and torture. So I'm asking you, are you investigating those cases and critically evaluating whether this is the intended effect of your policy? Or does it point out a defect in your policy?

WOLF: I understand the question, we continue to work with the government of Mexico to provide them the capacity, the capability to continue to invest in those shelter capacities along the border at the MPP sites, not only to build up that capacity, but to secure that, and we certainly encourage all individuals in the MPP program to go to those shelters. What we find, unfortunately, is there's a number of those folks that are in the program that choose not to go to those shelters that go to elsewhere in those communities. And so we would encourage all of them to go to those government of Mexico design shelters through the NPP process, where they do have that protection.

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