Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Sarah Saldana on Wednesday told the Senate it was “not very smart” to have the government fully enforce U.S. immigration laws.
Instead, she said it makes more sense to follow the Obama administration’s plan to prioritize some illegal immigrants for deportation, in order to save time and money.
Her remarks came at a Senate hearing in which Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who is running for president, spent several minutes criticizing the administration’s selective enforcement of the law. Senators had already noted that deportations have fallen for the last four years under Obama, and Cruz pressed her to explain her comment that ICE could deport millions if it wanted, but was choosing not to.
“You mentioned a minute ago that ICE could deport the 12 million people here illegally. Why is not doing so?” Cruz asked. “Why is it not enforcing the law?”
“We’re talking about billions and billions of dollars to do that,” Saldana answered. “That is not practical, and quite frankly, not very smart.”
Cruz pounced, “Okay, it’s not smart, to enforce federal law that requires those here illegally to be deported?”
“You’re playing games with words, Senator Cruz,” Saldana responded. “And I’m trying help the American public and this committee.”
“By ignoring the law?” Cruz replied. “You are not helping the American public by ignoring the law.”
The exchange was just one of several tense back-and-forths between Cruz and Saldana. Toward the end of his questioning, Cruz asked her if she supported his legislation to ban cities from purposefully ignoring federal immigration law, a bill he proposed after Kate Steinle was killed by an immigrant who had been deported several times.
But Saldana dodged by saying she wouldn’t put a “band aid” on the issue with that legislation, and later refused to say “yes” or “no” to Cruz’s direct question. “I have answered it, sir,” she said.
Earlier in the hearing, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., pressed Saldana to explain why deportations are down over the last four years. Saldana argued that her agency was doing all it could within the bounds of the law to deport people, given the resources it has.
“ICE will continue to do the best job we can, within the bounds of existing law, to accomplish our mission, make strategic use of our resources, and improve efficiency and reporting,” she said.
But Sessions and other Republicans argued that the Clinton administration deported far more people with less funding. Cruz asked if Saldana would say the Clinton administration was “not smart” for deporting so many, prompting Saldana to ask whether he was “seriously” asking that question.