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Internal Conflict at ICE Threatens to Stall Enforcement and Detention Reforms

by | Apr 19, 2010 | 0 comments

WASHINGTON, DC – The Obama Administration’s reforms to our nation’s troubled immigration enforcement and detention system are at serious risk of derailing. On Saturday, internal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) memos were released revealing deep dissension at the highest levels of ICE leadership. Unless President Obama and Secretary Napolitano take immediate action to get back on track, their reforms will come to a standstill leaving thousands of families and individuals vulnerable to ramped up arrests, detentions and deportation nationwide.

A Monday meeting that ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton held with AILA and other immigration advocates gave the impression that all blame for the crisis should be placed one person: newly appointed director of detention and removal, James Chaparro. Chaparro apologized repeatedly at the meeting saying that he was not authorized to send a memo to all senior field staff that The Washington Post released publicly on Saturday. The allegedly unauthorized memo set quotas for increased arrests and detentions in an effort to remove as many people as possible, thus disregarding the Administration’s priorities to allocate scarce resources and target dangerous criminal aliens and drug traffickers.

“The bad-apple story does not hold up,” said AILA Advocacy Director, Gregory Chen, who attended the Monday meeting. “Chaparro is Morton’s hand-picked right-hand man who leads on detention and deportation policy. It defies credulity that Chaparro acted entirely alone in sending the memo to all his senior field staff.” The memo was in force for more than a month. Even more telling, in November and January, two other high level officials also sent memos to the field setting high detention and deportation quotas. Those memos preceded Chaparro’s appointment in February. “This was not one man’s error, but widespread disagreement within the agency’s senior ranks,” said Chen.

“Were it not for The Washington Post, the American public would never know about this,” said Bernie Wolfsdorf, President of AILA. “Before the Post article, Morton and Napolitano did not take any corrective action to stop this, and I don’t believe they would have disclosed this on their own. Chaparro should not be the fall guy for what are department-wide entrenched practices that he, Napolitano, and Obama cannot root out. A Washington Post article should not be the impetus for ensuring ICE officials and ranks are on the same page,” continued Wolfdorfs.

“If this President is serious about putting fairness back into enforcement, he should ask Morton to issue a public statement and release his plan for getting reform moving again and in the right direction,” added Wolfsdorf. But at the Monday meeting, Morton would not commit to giving a more detailed public explanation of his corrective plans. “ICE leadership, its officers, and the public need to know how ICE officers will enforce the law and whether this Administration intends to carry out the ambitious reform agenda,” said David Leopold, AILA president-elect. He continued, “ICE rank and file are getting the wrong message from Morton: The message they are hearing is “our mission is not to protect America from those who would do us harm. Rather, it’s a numbers game; remove everyone who may technically fit the bill so that ICE can reach its bureaucratic target.”

Our nation has been waiting long enough for Mr. Morton, Ms. Napolitano, and the President to deliver on the promise of reform. If they cannot quickly demonstrate the leadership to implement real reform, AILA urges Congress to take swift action by passing any of several reform bills such as those proposed by Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA).


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