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Sessions: Controversy-Plagued Immigration And Customs Enforcement Director Must Leave Post

By: Press Release
By: Press Release

“Given everything we have learned, Director Morton cannot continue in office. We cannot make progress on immigration reform as long as the man in charge of enforcing our nation’s immigration laws continues to undermine those very laws and the efforts of his own agents… The federal government is abdicating its responsibility, it’s violating the laws of the United States, [and] it’s punishing officers who try to do their duty.”

WASHINGTON—U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, delivered remarks on the Senate floor today regarding the controversies surrounding John Morton, Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Among other things, Morton’s tenure at ICE has been marked by such an undermining of his own agents that the ICE officers’ union voted unanimously to hold him in no confidence.

Sessions’ remarks, as submitted for the record, follow:

“Mr. President, as we consider the serious issue of immigration reform, it is important for us to understand where we are as a country with regard to the laws that we have and how they’re being enforced. I will share some thoughts about that today because the American people and members of Congress need to fully understand what’s happening. It is well documented that the Obama Administration has either unilaterally weakened or outright waived immigration enforcement—at the border, in the interior, at the worksite, and at the welfare office—of existing immigration laws.

Last year, I joined with my colleagues at a press conference with the top representatives for our nation’s rank-and-file immigration law enforcement officers. The presidents of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Border Patrol officers’ unions, elected to serve as the voice of their fellow officers, gave a chilling report about the Administration’s systematic effort to dismantle the enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws. Not just an effort, but an effective plan in action to do so.

At the center of this misconduct is John Morton, the Director of ICE. The evidence that I am about to share with you leads me to the unfortunate conclusion that Mr. Morton can no longer effectively serve at his post and—perhaps more importantly—there can be no comprehensive immigration reform as long as he is the person charged with enforcing it. What purpose is served to pass new laws if the ones we have are ignored by officials charged with enforcing them?

There is a timeline that I would like to share which shows how Mr. Morton and the Administration have undermined enforcement.

Most Americans don’t fully understand the real effect of immigration policies. In reality, if a state law officer apprehends someone for speeding and discovers that he is illegally in the country, the result is that nothing happens. The individual is simply released.

I was the Attorney General for the State of Alabama. For twelve years, I was the top federal prosecutor in the southern district of Alabama, the United States Attorney. I saw how the system operates, and it’s not working. At town meetings I would ask the members and citizens who showed up, “What happens if your local police officer apprehends someone who is illegally in the country?” And they would say they would call the federal people, or they’d arrest them and take them to jail. But the answer from the federal agencies would be essentially just to say, “No, we won’t take them, just release them.” That’s what they do because the system is utterly broken and not working.

Now, I will take just a few minutes to run through a timeline of Mr. Morton’s unacceptable actions:

May 19, 2010: In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Director Morton announces that ICE may not even process or accept illegal aliens transferred to the agency’s custody by Arizona officials.

May 27, 2010: An ICE email reveals that “low-risk,” short-time detainees will be able to have visitors stay for an unlimited amount of time during a 12-hour window, be given access to unmonitored phone lines, email, and free internet calling. They will also be entertained with movie nights, bingo, arts and crafts, dance and cooking classes, tutoring, and computer training.

June 25, 2010: The National ICE Council, the union that represents more than 7,000 detention and removal agents within ICE, casts a unanimous vote of “No Confidence” in Director Morton. According to the union, the vote reflects “the growing dissatisfaction among ICE employees and Union Leaders that Director Morton… has abandoned the Agency’s core mission of enforcing United States immigration laws and enforcing public safety, and have instead directed their attention to campaigning for programs and policies relating to amnesty…”

August 2010: ICE begins circulating a draft policy that would significantly limit the circumstances under which ICE would take custody of illegal aliens. The memo provides that immigration officers shall issue detainers—or official notification to local law enforcement agencies that ICE intends to assume custody of the alien—only after a law enforcement agency has independently arrested the alien for a criminal violation. Thus, in effect, no longer will ICE pick up an illegal alien for illegally entering the country or with false ID or false immigration documents.

October 8, 2010: According to ICE’s deportation statistics, from October 2009 until September 2010 the agency deported over 390,000 illegal aliens. Roughly half of the deportations—more than 195,000—were of criminal illegal aliens. However, they fail to mention that while the deportation of criminal illegal aliens has risen, the change in the total number of overall deportations is statistically insignificant. In fact, the number of deportations of non-criminal illegal aliens has decreased.

December 6, 2010: Interviews and internal communications cited in the Washington Post indicate the record number of over 390,000 deportations was padded. First, the article charges that ICE included 19,422 removals in FY2010 that were really from the previous fiscal year. The Post article also describes how ICE extended a Mexican repatriation program beyond its normal operation dates, adding 6,500 to the final removal numbers.

March 2, 2011: In a departmental memorandum, Director Morton outlines new “enforcement priorities” and encourages immigration agents to not enforce the law against most illegal aliens, but to only take action against those who meet these “priorities.”

June 17, 2011: Director Morton issues a second memorandum further directing ICE agents to refrain from enforcing U.S. immigration laws against certain segments of the illegal alien population—criteria similar to that under the DREAM Act—despite having no legal or congressional authority and despite the fact that the DREAM Act was three times defeated in Congress.

June 17, 2011: Director Morton issues a third memorandum instructing ICE personnel to consider refraining from enforcing the law against individuals engaging in a protected activity related to civil or other rights (for example, union organizing or complaining to authorities about employment discrimination or housing conditions) who may be in a nonfrivolous dispute with an employer, landlord, or contractor.

June 23, 2011: Leaders of the national ICE union express outrage over the June 17 administrative amnesty memoranda authored by Director Morton. The law officers say that since the Administration was “unable to pass its immigration agenda through legislation, [it] is now implementing it through agency policy.” It also accuses top ICE officials of working “hand-in-hand” with the open-borders lobby, while excluding its own officers from the policy development process. In plain words, they are saying the political appointees of ICE are advancing the agenda of those here illegally and maneuvering against their own law officers trying to do their duty.

June 27, 2011: Internal memoranda confirm that once the Houston Chronicle (on August 24, 2010) exposed DHS’ directive to review and dismiss valid deportation cases then in process, ICE officials attempted to publicly distance themselves from such lenient policies and deny that they ever existed.

October 12, 2011: In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Director Morton admits that White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs and former National Council of La Raza employee (now White House Domestic Policy Director) Cecilia Muñoz assisted in preparation of the administrative amnesty memoranda.

October 18, 2011: ICE refuses to take any action after the Santa Clara County, California, Board of Supervisors votes 3-1 to stop using county funds to honor ICE detainers, except in limited circumstances.

October 19, 2011: ICE refuses to act after District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray issues an executive order to prevent D.C. police from enforcing U.S. immigration law. Among other things, the order prohibits all public safety agencies from inquiring about an individual’s immigration status or from contacting ICE if there is no nexus to a criminal investigation.

November 22, 2011: ICE refuses to act after New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg signs a measure ordering all city jails to ignore certain ICE detainers issued to deport illegal aliens from those jails. As a result, New York City jails now release many illegal aliens back into the community instead of handing them over to ICE for removal.

December 15, 2011: Without an opportunity to defend itself, and with little regard for the maintenance of public safety or the rule of law, DHS rescinds Maricopa County, Arizona’s 287(g) agreement—a cooperative agreement whereby local law enforcement receive training in identifying and apprehending illegal aliens. Director Morton tells the Maricopa County Attorney that ICE will no longer respond to calls from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office involving traffic stops, civil infractions, or “other minor offenses.” However, it is unclear how ICE can refuse to respond to inquiries from the deputies and not directly violate federal law, which requires the federal government to respond to inquiries by law enforcement agencies to verify immigration status.

December 29, 2011: ICE creates a 24-hour hotline for illegal alien detainees to be staffed by the Law Enforcement Support Center—the same organization that ICE says is too understaffed to keep up with immigration status check requests from state and local law enforcement. ICE then revises its detainer form to include a new provision that says ICE should “consider this request for a detainer operative only upon the subject’s conviction.” This shift in policy to a discretionary “post-conviction” model ignores the fact that being in the country illegally is a violation of federal law while simultaneously welcoming criminal aliens back onto the streets.

January 19, 2012: ICE attorneys in Denver and Baltimore recommend that the agency voluntarily close 1,667 removal cases, resulting in the release of illegal aliens already in proceedings without consequence for violating U.S. immigration laws.

February 7, 2012: ICE announces the creation of the ICE Public Advocate, who is to serve as a point of contact for aliens in removal proceedings, community and advocacy groups, and others who have concerns, questions, recommendations, or other issues they would like to raise about the Administration’s executive enforcement and amnesty efforts.

April 25, 2012: ICE officials announce the agency has offered to voluntarily close over 16,500 illegal alien deportation cases pending background checks in connection with the Administration’s review of 300,000 pending immigration cases. The Administration also announces that the number of illegal aliens whose cases it has already dismissed is up to 2,700 from just over 1,500 the previous month.

April 27, 2012: ICE shifts its policy on Secure Communities, where local officers report arrests of persons who are here illegally, to stop the enforcement of immigration law against illegal aliens apprehended for “minor traffic offenses.” When Secure Communities identifies illegal aliens pursuant to a traffic offense, ICE will no longer ask the local jails to detain the illegal aliens so that ICE may begin deportation proceedings; rather, ICE will only consider detaining an alien if the alien is ultimately convicted of the offense. Moreover, despite claims of limited resources, ICE also announced it plans to take action against jurisdictions with arrest rates the agency deems too high.

June 5, 2012: ICE releases its latest statistics in its case-by-case review of pending deportation cases and states the Agency’s attorneys have reviewed over 288,000 cases. Of those reviewed, ICE says it plans to voluntarily dismiss 20,648; it states over 4,300 of these cases have already been processed and the remaining will be closed pending background checks.

As I noted earlier, last year, I joined several of my colleagues in a press conference with the President of the ICE Officers Association, Chris Crane. What he said corroborated our worst fears—it was a chilling report about the Administration’s systematic effort to dismantle our nation’s immigration laws. Here is just some of what he had to say:

“As one example, prosecutorial discretion for [those qualifying for DREAM Act amnesty] is solely based on the individuals’ claims. Our orders are, if an alien says they went to high school, then let them go. If they say they have a GED, then let them go. Officers have been told that there is no burden for the alien to prove anything. Even with the greatly relaxed new policies, the alien isn’t even required to prove that they meet any of the new criteria.”

“There is no requirement, or burden to prove anything, on the part of the alien. We believe that significant numbers of people who [do not meet DREAM Act criteria] are taking advantage of this practice to avoid arrest.”

“The Administration’s new policies do not provide officers with new options or increased flexibility, but instead order officers not to enforce laws and not to take enforcement actions against specific groups, with officers under threat of losing their jobs if they do so.”

“We were the only safety net between the community and these [criminal alien] predators, until now. Now, those folks, more and more, are walking out the back doors of these jails. We’re walking away from them out in the field, we’re encountering them in houses, and we’re not allowed to talk to them. We’re not allowed to do basic investigative work. And because of that, we’re walking away from a lot of bad guys. This is not about individuals who are here to work, or whatever the case may be, there is a much larger problem and everybody is getting wrapped up in the same situation. When you take an officer’s ability in the field to distinguish between those types of things, you place the public at risk.”

ICE Lawsuit

The situation is so dire that these brave men and women saw no choice but to file suit against their leadership, including Director Morton. Last Friday, a federal judge ruled that ICE agents and officers have the right to challenge the administrative amnesty policies instituted by Director Morton and President Obama, which command the agents to violate federal law and refrain from detaining most all illegal aliens, or face disciplinary action or worse: losing their jobs.

According to the complaint, even violent offenders are eligible for automatic release under these non-enforcement policies. For example, ICE agent Samuel Martin, along with another ICE agent, picked up an illegal alien from the El Paso County, Texas jail on July 17, 2012. While the agents were trying to place the individual in the vehicle, he attempted to escape and physically assaulted the agents. Although the agents regained custody of the alien and transported him to the El Paso Criminal Alien Program office for processing, the agents’ supervisors ordered them to release the alien without charges and specifically to not issue a Notice to Appear, as required by federal law. The agents protested the release of the alien but were told “it was a management decision, based on the President’s new immigration policies.” Anyone with the slightest experience in law enforcement can see that these actions are devastating to law enforcement personnel.

Letter to Morton

On August 3, 2012, I wrote to Director Morton regarding reports that ICE suspended an agent in the Philadelphia field office for arresting a 35-year old Mexican citizen unlawfully present in the U.S. with ten misdemeanor traffic violations, no driver’s license, and apparent ties to a fugitive. The alien arrived in the U.S. at the age of 25, meaning that he should not qualify for “deferred action,” even under the Administration’s unlawfully imposed DREAM Act directive. Yet, according to reports, the acting field director, a supervisor, advised the criminal alien that he would be let go because he was not a “presidential priority.”

On August 15, 2012, Director Morton responded to my letter, stating that the agent was in trouble for failing to obey “chain of command.”

On September 11, 2012, I responded that the issue was not “chain of command” but rather the agent’s sworn duties under the law and the Administration’s “priorities” that contradict that sworn obligation. The supervisor’s actions in this matter, and Director Morton’s support for them, disastrously undermine the effectiveness of our immigration law enforcement officers in the field and their ability to enforce our nation’s laws. I stated that his apparent failure to support his officers in these incidents, and his evident lack of concern for the Administration’s decision to nullify the very laws they were sworn to enforce, raised serious questions about his ability to lead the agency.

Director Morton never responded to that letter.

These serious questions remain. The ICE union vote of no confidence and the detailed charges against ICE’s leadership are corroborated by those inside the Administration who are afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation that the Obama Administration is dismantling our immigration enforcement capability and pursuing wholesale amnesty, even as it reassures the American people that it is serious about combating illegal immigration.

These actions are demoralizing to our agents. If an individual claims DREAM Act status, even though it never passed into law, the officers are directed to let them go on the spot. It’s an evisceration of the law of the United States. Mr. Morton has no authority to do so. He should not be doing that. And a huge percentage of the people that are arrested are in their thirties or below. How is an officer going to tell? The individual makes the assertion, and according to the testimony of these officers they are told to accept that statement, accept that claim, and not detain or deport the person they’ve apprehended.

In the coming days, these facts and more will come to light. The Administration has to realize that there can be no comprehensive immigration reform as long as it is the policy of the Director of ICE, John Morton, to refuse to enforce existing plain law. We can’t have an agreement.

That is why, given everything we have learned, Director Morton cannot continue in office. We cannot make progress on immigration reform as long as the man in charge of enforcing our nation’s immigration laws continues to undermine those very laws and the efforts of his own agents, and who refuses to act to protect them even when they are assaulted by people. They’ve ordered aliens to be released who’ve assaulted agents. The federal government is abdicating its responsibility, it’s violating the laws of the United States, it’s punishing officers who try to do their duty—every day they’re being disciplined about it. They’re creating more people illegally in the country; they are encouraging more people to come to the country by not enforcing our laws. At a time of high unemployment, the result is, we are lowering wages and creating more unemployment.

They are suing states that are trying to cooperate. They are explicitly eviscerating the 287(g) program—a program I worked hard on a decade ago—and was expanded to create trained state officers who could help the federal agents to do their jobs. And now the President is making a speech today in Las Vegas. It’ll take him nine hours to get out there, I understand, to make a speech. He is saying again, I guess, “Trust me. We need to change the law and then I’ll enforce it, then we’ll have our people follow the rules that you pass.”

Well, this failure to deal in good faith and to actually follow the laws Congress has passed is one of the biggest obstacles we face. We just have to say it. It’s one of the biggest obstacles we face in being able to craft some sort of reform of our immigration laws and make it worthy of a great nation. We are a nation of immigrants, we believe in immigration, but we believe in law. We believe people should wait their time and people should be able to be accepted here—over a million a year—in an orderly process, not a disorderly process. We should not be rewarding those who violate the law and making it even harder for those who try to comply with the law.”


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