John Morton, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, makes the same general speech at all of his appearances: The Obama administration is serious about immigration enforcement and opposes amnesty. Illegal immigration is down. Enforcement efforts are working — and growing. Most recently, Morton unveiled plans to expand a sea port security program to catch people smuggling drugs, arms and immigrants along the border. “The numbers are beginning to head in the right direction in terms of apprehensions,” Morton said yesterday.
But conservative groups aren’t buying it. Conservative websites and pro-enforcement groups have been circulating a report from a June meeting of an ICE union as proof Morton may favor amnesty over enforcement. The National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents ICE field agents, unanimously gave a vote of “no confidence” in Morton:
This action reflects the growing dissatisfaction and concern among ICE employees and Union leaders that Director John Morton and Assistant Director Phyllis Coven have abandoned the Agency’s core mission of enforcing United States Immigration Laws and providing for public safety, and have instead directed their 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 United States citizens similarly incarcerated.
The vote was on June 11, but it didn’t get much media attention until this month, when the Washington Examiner reported on it. Tuesday, the conservative Heritage Institute wrote about the vote, arguing that it shows “the heads of ICE don’t seem particularly concerned about curbing illegal immigration and enforcing the rule of law.”
It’s an argument Morton has refuted repeatedly, citing figures that ICE is deporting record numbers of illegal immigrants under his watch. But he and other members of the Obama administration face a tough balance between touting enforcement victories and appearing insensitive to the suffering of those deported.
Claims from the right about lack of immigration enforcement are perhaps to be expected, but they show the scope of the public relations problem ICE faces, Newsweek reported last week:
Of course, the administration’s strategy is not to convert anti-illegal immigration crusaders, but to build a reputation with moderate voters on immigration enforcement in the face of criticism about the Justice Department’s challenge of Arizona’s new immigration law. At its core, that statute was an attempt to buttress lax federal enforcement. The surging popularity of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed the law, coupled with a wave of campaign ads invoking the issue, suggests that immigration, perennially a secondary matter in general elections, may be a core issue for more voters than usual this year. With Morton’s public relations tour, the administration offers Congressional Democrats fodder to change the debate.
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