Oversight Seeks Testimony From Top USCIS and ICE Officials After DHS Breaches Agreement with Committee
Washington, D.C. (Sept. 18, 2019)—Today, Rep. Jamie Raskin, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, sent a letter demanding that Acting USCIS Director Ken Cuccinelli and Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence personally testify at a hearing on September 26, 2019, after the Trump Administration blocked their lower-level employees from answering questions on the policy to deport critically ill children and their families.
“I am writing to express my grave concern over the Department’s flagrant, last-minute breach of the agreement we reached last week regarding witness testimony at our emergency hearing on the Trump Administration’s decision to deport critically ill children and their families,” Chairman Raskin wrote.
Chairman Raskin first asked Cuccinelli and Albence to testify on September 6, 2019. When they did not agree, the Committee prepared subpoenas and shared them with Republican counterparts. After further negotiations, the Committee agreed not to issue the subpoenas and postpone the hearing until September 11, 2019. In exchange, the Department agreed to send witnesses to answer the Subcommittee’s questions.
Despite this accommodation and the delay it caused, the Department sent a letter—the night before the hearing—claiming that it would no longer allow its witnesses to answer many questions because a private party had sued the Department.
Chairman Raskin responded the same evening, explaining that the Supreme Court has rejected the Department’s claim that congressional oversight ceases just because a federal agency is sued.
“If it did, congressional oversight would grind to a virtual halt as House and Senate committees would be forced to postpone work on investigations every time private litigation is brought against federal agencies,” Chairman Raskin wrote in today’s letter.
Nevertheless, the witnesses repeatedly cited this baseless argument at the hearing, declining to answer even basic questions about the Administration’s policy. For example, Chairman Raskin had this exchange with the USCIS witness.
“The Department’s actions are a clear breach of its agreement with the Committee,” Chairman Raskin wrote today. “The Department’s rationale for refusing to answer questions from Congress has been rejected by the Supreme Court, and the Department’s stonewalling is obstructing our investigation.”
Despite these refusals by DHS to answer basic factual questions, Committee Members made an additional effort at accommodation. They explained that the Department could meet its obligations by producing documents requested in a letter led by Committee Member Ayanna Pressley on August 30, 2019, and signed by Chairman Raskin, Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, and more than 100 other Members of the House and Senate.
Committee Members made clear that the Department had until Friday, September 13, 2019, to comply, but the Department produced no further information or documents by this date.
Click here to read today’s letter.