By Jerry Seper
The union that represents rank-and-file field agents at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has unanimously passed a "vote of no confidence" for the agency's leadership, saying ICE has "abandoned" its core mission of protecting the public to support a political agenda favoring amnesty.
The National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 7,000 ICE agents and employees, voted 259-0 for a resolution saying there was "growing dissatisfaction and concern" over the leadership of Assistant Secretary John Morton, who heads ICE, and Phyllis Coven, assistant director for the agency's office of detention policy and planning.
The resolution said ICE leadership had "abandoned the agency's core mission of enforcing U.S. immigration laws and providing for public safety," instead directing its attention "to campaigning for programs and policies related to amnesty and the creation of a special detention system for foreign nationals that exceeds the care and services provided to most U.S. citizens similarly incarcerated.
"It is the desire of our union … to publicly separate ourselves from the actions of Director Morton and Assistant Director Coven and publicly state that ICE officers and employees do not support Morton or Coven or their misguided and reckless initiatives, which could ultimately put many in America at risk," the union said.
In a strongly worded statement, the union and its affiliated local councils said the integrity of the agency "as well as the public safety" would be "better provided for in the absence of Director Morton and Assistant Director Coven."
The statement also noted that:
• The majority of ICE's enforcement and removal officers are prohibited from making street arrests or enforcing U.S. immigration laws outside of the jail setting.
• Hundreds of ICE officers nationwide perform no law enforcement duties whatsoever because of resource mismanagement within the agency.
• ICE detention reforms have transformed into a detention system aimed at providing resortlike living conditions to criminal aliens based on recommendations not from ICE officers and field managers, but from "special-interest groups."
• The lack of technical expertise and field experience has resulted in a priority of providing bingo nights, dance lessons and hanging plants to criminals, instead of addressing safe and responsible detention reforms for noncriminal individuals and families.
• Unlike any other agency in the nation, ICE officers will be prevented from searching detainees housed in ICE facilities, allowing weapons, drugs and other contraband into detention centers — putting detainees, ICE officers and contract guards at risk.
• Senior leadership ignores reports that ICE internal investigations by the office of professional responsibility conceal agency and supervisor misconduct and are used to retaliate against employees who make whistleblower-type disclosures or question inappropriate policies and procedures.
ICE spokesman Brian Hale said the agency meets regularly with representatives of the union to discuss its goal of ensuring public safety by focusing on finding criminal aliens and removing them from the country.
"We have fundamentally reformed immigration enforcement, and we are removing record numbers of criminal aliens because of it," Mr. Hale said. "Half of the people we have removed so far this year have been convicted criminal aliens — up from 35 percent a year ago.
"We understand the union's reason for engaging in creative collective-bargaining tactics and, regardless, we remain committed to working with them to address substantive issues in the interests of making our communities safer," he said.
ICE documents show that during the first nine months of fiscal 2010, a total of 279,035 noncitizens were removed from the U.S. as a result of ICE enforcement — a 10 percent increase over the total in fiscal 2008, the last fiscal year of the Bush administration.
But according to the union, illegal immigrants now being held in state and local jails seek out ICE agents for deportation to avoid prosecution, conviction and prison terms. It said criminal aliens "openly brag" that they are taking advantage of a broken immigration system and will be back in the United States within days to commit crimes — while U.S. citizens arrested for the same offenses serve prison sentences.
"ICE senior leadership is aware that the system is broken, yet refuses to alert Congress to the severity of the situation and request additional resources to provide better enforcement and support of local agencies," the statement said.
The no-confidence vote, taken in June and made public last week in a letter by the union, said the agency's senior leadership dedicated "more time to campaigning for immigration reforms aimed at large-scale amnesty legislation than advising the American public and federal lawmakers on the severity of the illegal-immigration problems."
The vote, first reported by the Washington Examiner, said Mr. Morton and Ms. Coven also ignored the need for more manpower and resources within the agency.
Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee and a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, told The Washington Times that the Obama administration is "simply not serious about enforcing all of our immigration laws."
Mr. Smith said ICE doesn't have the resources because it didn't ask for them, adding that "the Obama administration did not request a single new detention bed in their most recent budget request."
"So the limits on detention capacity that they now claim hold them back from further enforcement are of their own making," he said. "What's more, ICE is running under its average daily detention capacity — the Obama administration is not even using all the resources it has."
Michael W. Cutler, a retired 31-year U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) senior criminal investigator and intelligence specialist, said the no-confidence vote "makes it clear that the leadership at ICE has politicized a major component of national security at the behest of the administration."
"It is clear that the marching orders coming from the administration have nothing to do with securing our nation's borders or enforcing the immigration laws," Mr. Cutler said.
"It is an absolute absurdity to believe that our nation can successfully wage a war against terrorists who are determined to enter our nation and then embed themselves in our nation with virtually no fear of being identified, arrested or removed from our country," he said.
Janice Kephart, director of national security policy at the Center for Immigration Studies, described the no-confidence vote in a statement last week as an example of how ICE's mission was being "skewed towards supporting an unflinching goal of amnesty by refusing to allow agents to do their job."
Ms. Kephart, former counsel to the Sept. 11 commission and a nationally recognized border-security authority, suggested that ICE leadership — particularly Mr. Morton — needed to pay attention to the no-confidence vote and the concerns expressed by the rank-and-file agents.
"May I suggest that a significant problem with dismissing a no-confidence vote from your entire employee population is, when you run an agency of 7,000 officers and agents, you can't do your job unless they do theirs?" she said. "Oh wait, that is the whole point, is it not?"
Mr. Morton recently announced new guidelines telling ICE agents to focus on apprehending terrorists and criminals, causing many of agency's rank-and-file agents to wonder who, then, is responsible for tracking down and detaining the millions of other illegal border-crossers and fugitive aliens now in the country.
The new guidelines noted that ICE "only has resources to remove approximately 400,000 aliens per year, less than 4 percent of the estimated illegal-alien population in the United States," and that as a result, it needed to focus wisely on the limited resources Congress had provided the agency.
He said the agency would "prioritize the apprehension and removal of aliens who only pose a threat to national security and/or public safety, such as criminals and terrorists." Lesser priorities were given to foreign nationals caught crossing the border illegally or using phony immigration documents to gain entry, and those identified as fugitives after failing to show up for immigration or deportation hearings.