WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, and Congresswoman Norma Torres (D-Calif.) today led more than 40 of their Democratic Senate and House colleagues in demanding that the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) take immediate action to prevent U.S. immigration authorities overseas from conducting future unauthorized enforcement operations similar to the January 2020 incident exposed by the SFRC Democratic Staff’s recent report.
“The report outlines that in January 2020 DHS agents in Guatemala misused State Department funds to rent unmarked vans and contract drivers to transport an unidentified number of migrants back to the Guatemala-Honduras border,” the Members wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and DHS Under Secretary Chad Wolf, asserting that DHS violated an interagency agreement with the State Department and initially denied its participation in the Guatemala operation. “In turn, DHS obfuscation caused the State Department to transmit misleading responses to Congress on January 22, 2020, which stated, ‘DHS has informed INL that they did not participate in the action of bussing Honduran migrants from Guatemala back to the Honduran border or their country of origin.’”
Given the serious nature of these violations and DHS’s initial efforts to obscure its transgressions, the Members also called on Secretary Pompeo and Under Secretary Wolf to produce a full report on the January 2020 incident and requested information concerning State Department and DHS leaderships’ efforts to ensure future accountability.
“As Members of Congress, we take our oversight responsibilities seriously,” the Members added. “When DHS provides the State Department with false information that in turn is transmitted to the Senate, this undermines the fundamental relationship between the Congress and the Executive. We trust you recognize the gravity of this matter and will take immediate steps to prevent future incidents.”
The letter to Secretary Pompeo and Under Secretary Wolf follows Ranking Member Menendez’s previous letter calling on the State Department and DHS Inspectors General to open an investigation into the operation in Guatemala.
Joining Ranking Member Menendez, Congressman Castro and Congresswoman Torres in signing the letter were:
Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) as well as Representatives Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), James McGovern (D-Mass.), Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.), Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), Albio Sires (D-N.J.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas), Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Jesús “Chuy” García (D-Ill.), J. Luis Correa (D-Calif.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Jason Crow (D-Colo.), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), and Judy Chu (D-Calif.).
Today’s letter restates the following key findings from the recent SFRC Democratic Staff report:
· DHS admitted to use of unmarked vans to transport migrant women and children to the Guatemala-Honduras border as part of an operation conducted in January 2020.
· DHS misused foreign assistance funds and violated an interagency agreement with the State Department that explicitly barred the use of INL funds for migrant operations.
· DHS’ ad hoc operation lacked protocols related to security, personal safety, and the screening of migrants who may have been eligible for international protection.
· DHS lied about its misuse of INL funding, which caused the State Department to transmit misleading information to Congress.
Click HERE for the full Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democratic staff report.
Click HERE for Ranking Member Menendez’s October 13, 2020 letter to the Inspectors General.
A copy of the letter to Secretary Pompeo and Under Secretary Wolf may be found HERE and below.
Secretary Pompeo and Under Secretary Wolf:
We write to express our concern about the January 2020 incident uncovered in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) Democratic staff report that reveals that Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials participated in a reckless immigration operation in Guatemala. The report found that DHS misused State Department funds, violated an agreement between the two departments, and initially provided false information in response to SFRC inquiries.
The report outlines that in January 2020 DHS agents in Guatemala misused State Department funds to rent unmarked vans and contract drivers to transport an unidentified number of migrants back to the Guatemala-Honduras border. Using funds transferred from the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), DHS carried out an ad hoc operation that appears to have lacked protocols related to security, personal safety, and the screening of migrants who may have been eligible for international protection. Additionally, while DHS admitted that it used the unmarked vans to transport women and children, it has been unwilling or unable to provide information as to whether any migrant families or children were separated during the operation or if there were any procedures in place to reunify these families.
DHS participation in the January 2020 incident in Guatemala occurred despite an explicit prohibition in the interagency agreement between the State Department and DHS that bars the use of INL funds for migration operations. Given that INL funds were intended for training and providing technical assistance to Guatemalan police and border authorities, DHS’ improvised operation constituted a direct violation of its interagency agreement with the State Department and a misuse of INL funding.
Equally troubling, when SFRC Democratic staff submitted a written inquiry about the January 2020 incident to the Department of State, DHS initially provided the State Department with false information stating that it had not participated in the operation in Guatemala. In turn, DHS obfuscation caused the State Department to transmit misleading responses to Congress on January 22, 2020, which stated, “DHS has informed INL that they did not participate in the action of bussing Honduran migrants from Guatemala back to the Honduran border or their country of origin.” However, on January 30, the State Department informed SFRC staff that information initially provided by DHS contained significant inaccuracies, prompting the submission of revised responses that confirmed the improper use of funds to rent “vans … to return Honduran migrants to the Guatemala-Honduran border.”
While a request has been submitted to the State Department and DHS Inspectors General to review January 2020 events in Guatemala, the serious nature of these violations and initial efforts by DHS to obfuscate its transgressions requires you both to take the necessary steps to guarantee that similar events do not occur again.  We ask that the State Department and DHS provide our offices with a full report of the January 2020 incident and the steps you and senior leadership in both departments have taken to ensure accountability.
As Members of Congress, we take our oversight responsibilities seriously. When DHS provides the State Department with false information that in turn is transmitted to the Senate, this undermines the fundamental relationship between the Congress and the Executive. We trust you recognize the gravity of this matter and will take immediate steps to prevent future incidents.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your prompt response.
September 16, 2021
September 15, 2021