Welcome to the chaotic Department of Homeland Security..
Two unions — representing nearly 20,000 DHS employees —recently joined forces to publicly oppose the Senate immigration reform bill from the so-called “Gang of Eight.”
Senate Judiciary Committee approves immigration legislation
The coalition represents 12,000 employees who are responsible for issuing documents that allow some immigrants to legally stay in the United States and 7,700 agents charged with deporting illegal immigrants out of the country. Together, the unions claim that the bill would weaken public safety.
What makes this situation awkward is that President Barack Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano have given tacit support to the Senate immigration reform bill. Obama has said that a pathway to citizenship must be included in any reform proposal. And as recently as last month, White House press secretary Jay Carney said that White House staffers had months ago huddled with the eight senators to help draft the legislation.
As an additional wrinkle, many of these DHS employees who oppose the bill would be charged with helping to implement it, either by reviewing the applications of undocumented immigrants who would be seeking legal status or deporting those who didn’t qualify for it. How that will ultimately work out is anyone’s guess.
Some of this sounds familiar. Before the unions took on the Senate bill, they launched a rebellion closer to home.
In June 2011, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton fired off an internal memorandum — the “Morton memo,” as it became known — to all directors, agents and general counsel in the agency’s field offices.
In the memo, Morton advised the field personnel that they “may” exercise discretion and show leniency toward some illegal immigrants by weighing certain factors. They included the length of time the person had lived in the United States, whether the person arrived as a child, whether the person was pursuing an education, etc.
The Morton memo was heralded by immigration reform advocates as a major breakthrough. And yet, how did some in the field respond to the memo?
According to more than a dozen immigration attorneys I interviewed back then and many others I saw quoted elsewhere, they ignored it.You had rampant insubordination. And neither Morton nor his higher-ups, i.e. Napolitano and Obama, did anything to bring people back in line.
I suspect that the reason for this hands-off approach was that the ICE agents, by racking up deportations, were helping the administration meet its goal of deporting people — which it has done at a rate of more than 1,000 per day. The high numbers were necessary so that the administration could portray itself to Congress and the American people as tough on immigration enforcement.
In October 2011, just four months after the Morton memo was issued, Napolitano delivered a speech at American University in which she boasted that the Department of Homeland Security was on track to set a new record for deportations in the 2011 fiscal year. It did. And in fiscal 2012, it broke that record again. At this rate, by the end of 2013, the administration will have deported 2 million people.