U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officers refused to let Department of Homeland Security investigators detain the man accused of providing weapons to the San Bernardino terrorists, federal officials revealed on Tuesday.
Ernique Marquez, who was subsequently indicted for providing material support to terrorists, was scheduled to appear at an immigration hearing the day after the shooting took place.
“[Homeland Security Investigators] contacted the HSI special agent requesting a team of armed agents to respond to the San Bernardino USCIS office in order to detain Marquez until an FBI interview team could be dispatched,” Senate Homeland Security Committee chairman Ron Johnson, R.-Wis., quoted from an internal memo during a hearing on Tuesday. “The special agent informed the HSI team that the officer in charge of USCIS would not let HSI agents in the building.”
Johnson faulted the agencies for failing to cooperate more effectively, and pressed DHS leadership about rumors that the USCIS acted on orders from political superiors. The DHS witnesses emphasized that the obstruction was a mistake made in the midst of “the confusion, the chaos that was going on in San Bernardino,” as Immigrations and Customs Enforcement director Sarah Saldana put it, and testified that political superiors actually instructed the agencies to work together once they were notified of the mistake.
“Unfortunately, it all happened so quickly that it was incorrectly perceived that our folks were trying to in some way obstruct what ICE was trying to do,” Leon Rodriguez, the head of USCIS, told the Senate panel. “Do we need to look at our protocols to make sure that those misunderstandings don’t occur? That is something that we may well need to do.”
Johnson didn’t seem entirely satisfied with the responses. “If I had, [it’s] a day after a terrorist attack and I had a team, armed, coming into my office and saying ‘we believe somebody who was involved in that terrorist incident is in your building; we want to come in,’ I’d have said ‘come on in,'” he said. “There wouldn’t have been a question in my mind. And yet, that’s not what happened. It’s very puzzling.”