A squabble is brewing between Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the union that represents its rank and file agents.
At issue is the training that needs to be conducted so ICE can implement the Obama Administration's new approach to deportations of illegal immigrants. That policy calls for the agency's scarce deportation resources to be focused on the most dangerous criminal aliens, rather than having ICE deport every illegal immigrant it comes across.
The New York Times reported last week that ICE's union was refusing to participate in the training because it opposes the new policy. But Chris Crane, president of the National ICE Council, told The Federal Drive with Tom Temin that's categorically untrue.
"The union in no way delayed the implementation of the training program or the policy," Crane said. The National ICE Council, which is part of the American Federation of Government Employees, represents Enforcement and Removal Operations officers within ICE.
"The union never contested the actual policy itself," he said. "We simply asked for training. It's a dynamic change in what we do, regardless of what the agency says."
According to Crane, the union has been vocal in asking for training for field managers and officers who are "completely clueless" on how to implement the administration's policy in the field. It requested that the Department of Homeland Security and ICE work with the union to execute the President's executive order. "Had we been able to work with the agency from the beginning, the training program would be ready to go right now," he said.
"On November 17, ICE launched a comprehensive training program on the appropriate use of the June 17, 2011 Prosecutorial Discretion Memorandum," ICE wrote in an e-mail to Federal News Radio. "This program consists of scenario-based training that emphasizes how the Prosecutorial Discretion Memorandum should be utilized in order to focus immigration enforcement resources on ICE priorities.
"This program builds on training that has already occurred since the June 17, 2011 memorandum was issued. On September 29 and October 24 2011, [DHS Secretary Janet] Napolitano met with supervisory ICE officers and attorneys to discuss the agency's enforcement priorities and the importance of these initiatives. ICE Director [John] Morton, along with other members of ICE's senior leadership team, have traveled around the country to discuss the importance of consistent application of prosecutorial discretion. Late last year, Director Morton and his senior leadership traveled to Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, San Diego, Miami, New York, and Newark to personally discuss the appropriate use of this policy.
"ICE is awaiting concurrence from the union to provide this training to field officers. We look forward to their response to our proposal."
ICE declined a request from Federal News Radio for an on-air interview.
Shut out of discussions
Crane said that he thinks the agency took too long to disseminate the policy and to get the training process underway. "We're just absolutely in shock now to see in the New York Times that we've been excluded from this process for approximately three years that we are now being blamed for holding up the policy and the training program when we've only been involved for 19 days," he said.
"We have no intention of holding [the process] up," Crane said. "We just want to make sure that we have adequate training for our officers and field managers."
Unlike unions in the private sector, federal employee unions such as the National ICE Council aren't allowed to bargain over wages, vacations and benefits packages nor do they have the right to go on strike.
"Our main benefit to the government, our main purpose really is to bring experience ... to the table and discuss those issues and make policies like this better," Crane said. "We just haven't had that."
Nineteen days before Crane's interview with Federal News Radio, ICE notified the ICE Council by certified mail that the union now had the opportunity to bargain with the agency over the policy. The union was given 22 days to respond. The union is now taking its first look at what Crane described as "a very, very small, insignificant amount of information" provided by ICE. From that, the union will generate a list of proposals on how to change the training program.
Crane admitted that the union is concerned about both the training and the actual policy. "We're very confused by the policy," he said. "It is a very dramatic change in the way that we conduct enforcement now."
In the field experience
What is of greatest concern for Crane is that many in the leadership element at ICE who are setting policy do not have the same in-the-field experience as union members. It's that perspective that has been lacking in the policymaking process.
"Many of them, quite frankly, have never put handcuffs on anyone," Crane said. "They've never been in that situation. They've never been in a life-or-death situation out in the field. They've never opened a door to a house serving a warrant not knowing what's on the other side of that door. They don't understand what we deal with."
On Jan. 10, Crane wrote a letter to President Obama dismissing the allegations made in the New York Times article. He also issued a press release refuting the same article.
Despite the current conflict, Crane hopes over the next few months the union and ICE representatives will come to an agreement about how they can successfully implement the administration's policy.
"Let's do something together that's going to make our agency work better," he said. "That's what we want to happen on this policy and that's what we want to happen from here on out."