Immigration Reform 2013: Enforcement Officers Are Wary of the Immigration Bill

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Union representing U.S. immigration agents has been openly critical of recent congressional efforts to push forward immigration reform. Reports this week cite the union’s president Chris Crane claiming the proposed immigration bill "does nothing" to address immigration enforcement concerns of agents on the ground, leaving too much discretion at the federal agency level which has failed to address enforcement officers’ concerns thus far.

This recent ill-will comes on the tails of heightened antagonism between the workers’ union and the federal immigration agency, revealing just how important greater cooperation and communication between agency officials, Congress, and immigration personnel on the ground is to bolstering more productive immigration reform efforts moving forward.

The national union of immigration enforcement personnel represents approximately 7,600 ICE officers throughout the continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, Virgin Islands, and Guam (according to their website), a subset of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). The union has been outspoken in recent weeks, telling Fox News that their representatives have been consistently denied a place at the policy table to voice their concerns despite union efforts, even requesting that Senator Marco Rubio (R, Fl.) leave Congress’ "Gang of 8."

As the Senate unveiled its 900-page bill this week introducing, which included a new system of visas for temporary low-skilled workers and expanded visas for high-skilled workers, the ICE union claims shortcomings on the enforcement end of the bill “doom” U.S. efforts to address immigration concerns on the ground. They are particularly concernced over a "major loophole," allowing the government "discretion" over when to enforce immigration laws.

The union’s concerns have been echoed by other critics of the proposed bill, as Senator Jeff Sessions (R, Ala.) claimed in a statement, "Our interior enforcement needs are almost totally neglected in the Gang's proposal … Alarmingly, the bill leaves intact the single greatest obstacle to immigration reform: the administration's abuse of prosecutorial discretion to prevent the enforcement of federal law." 

Reforms would direct the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, responsible for detaining and deporting illegal immigrants. Union representatives have been openly critical of the director of the federal immigration agency, John Morton, claiming that the agency presents written policies for the general public, but then “"makes secret changes”" without written documentation, making it difficult for agents to do their job. In recent testimony before Congress, Crane has made further allegations that federal regulations and practices are inhibiting agents’ abilities to enforce immigration laws.

Union concerns stand amidst a slew of discontent voiced against the federal agency, as the department has faced accusations leading to a lawsuit over discrimination, and its efforts have been termed "“incompetent”" in a recent New York Times editorial.

In an issue that has already been deadlocked and highly politicized, the triumph of “"bipartisan"” support for the recent proposed immigration bill will be strengthened if the degree of antagonism between the federal ICE agency and enforcement personnel on the ground can be minimized with new laws. Policy makers should take heed of enforcement agents' growing concern. So long as union personnel are feeling left out of the equation, ill- will between the regulatory and enforcement level can limit the ability for immigration programs to move forward in a productive and streamlined manner. Allowing union representatives’ concerns to have more of a place at the policy table – --to the extent that their criticisms can be harnessed to constructively address enforcement concerns – may strengthen the ability for productive immigration reform to finally take root.

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Rachel George

Rachel is a PhD candidate in International Relations at the London School of Economics. She holds a BA in Politics from Princeton and an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard. Her interests include journalism, U.S. foreign policy, human rights, and international law.

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