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On Immigration, ICE Employees See Politics Trump Policy

Plenty of politicians have accused the Obama administration of playing politics with immigration policy. But even within Immigration and Customs Enforcement, there’s a growing debate over whether ICE officials make decisions based on policy or politics, the Andrew Becker reported today in the Washington Post.

The Obama administration has attempted to strike a fine balance on immigration enforcement: Not so soft as to seem pro-amnesty, but not so tough to appear insensitive to the struggling of illegal immigrant families. Immigration and Customs Services officials have always claimed they make decisions based on resources: ICE can only deport 400,000 people per year, so they argue focusing on illegal immigrants considered dangerous makes the most sense.

ICE officers, managers and lawyers told Becker they are frustrated with ICE’s leadership, particularly agency Director John Morton and Phyllis Coven, the official overseeing detention reform. As the agency seeks to target criminal illegal immigrants and employers who exploit undocumented workers, officers and attorneys are increasingly encouraged to drop deportation charges against immigrants with clean criminal records. These decisions seemed to be based on the political climate, ICE staff said:

Michael D. Rozos Sr., who retired May 1 as one of the agency’s most senior field managers, said he left his position in Miami “several years early” out of frustration that the agency was moving backward toward the years of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The defunct agency became part of ICE when DHS was created in 2002.

“I see a repeat of what the INS was like, which was chasing its tail,” Rozos said. “They’re trying to go in every direction and end up going in circles.”

Rozos was one of the 24 detention and deportation field managers who sent a memorandum to Morton earlier this year challenging instructions to drop efforts on some deportations. Union workers have also voiced discontent with ICE policies. 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 in June.

The White House told Becker enforcement decisions are based on “sound law-and-order principles, not decisions based on the political wind.”

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