WASHINGTON — Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, released statements regarding the findings of a Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General investigation into the lack of cooperation between DHS entities following the San Bernardino, Calif. terror attacks. The refusal to cooperate came to light as a result of whistleblowers bringing the matter to the attention of Chairman Johnson.
"The report from the Office of Inspector General confirms whistleblower complaints I received about a dangerous lack of coordination between Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services,” said Sen. Johnson. “The refusal to allow armed ICE agents into a USCIS facility to detain a suspected terrorist could have had tragic consequences. Congress created the DHS to unify and improve coordination among agencies in defending our homeland. What happened in the San Bernardino USCIS field office on December 3 shows that work remains. I hope Secretary Johnson and DHS leadership take this independent watchdog report to heart."
Sen. Grassley said, “This is a classic example of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing in the Obama Administration’s Department of Homeland Security. Agents we depend on to keep us safe, especially hours after a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, were blocked by officials within their own agency from conducting a routine law enforcement action to prevent a potentially dangerous situation at a federal building. This incident shows the disturbing lack of collaboration between the USCIS and ICE—two agencies tasked with enforcing our immigration laws. Thanks to whistleblowers and the Justice Department Inspector General’s report, these agencies can better understand their own policies, what went wrong and the need to prevent future breakdowns.”
On Tuesday, March 15, 2016, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a hearing at which Chairman Johnson revealed a lack of cooperation between USCIS and ICE in the aftermath of the terror attacks in San Bernardino. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents were alerted by the FBI that Enrique Marquez, who supplied the weapons that Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik used to carry out the attacks in San Bernardino on Dec. 2, 2015, was scheduled for an immigration hearing at the USCIS office in San Bernardino on Dec. 3, 2015, together with his wife. According to an HSI memo from earlier this year, when HSI agents arrived at the USCIS office to detain Marquez, the USCIS denied the HSI agents entry into the building and later refused to provide relevant immigration documents to HSI.
The DHS OIG report found that USCIS “improperly delayed HSI agents from conducting a lawful and routine law enforcement action.” The HSI agents waited 20 to 30 minutes in accessing the USCIS building because the USCIS field office director incorrectly asserted that she had authority to determine who could and could not enter the building. The report states that the HSI agents should have been allowed to enter the building immediately after they had identified themselves and explained their purpose. The USCIS field office director incorrectly asserted that USCIS policy prohibited making an arrest or detention at a USCIS facility. The report also faulted the field office director for providing HSI agents with only a photo from Chernykh’s immigration file, instead of the complete file which they had requested.
Chairman Johnson’s letter to DHS Inspector General Roth can be found here.