Washington, DC – Nineteen of the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) top investigative agents have asked Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to spin off their division from the agency, according to the Texas Observer.
The group sent a letter to Nielsen in the last week of June that called for the Homeland Security Investigations (HIS) unit to be separated from the ICE umbrella where it currently resides, and for the special investigative unit to become its own agency.
In the letter, the 19 special agents in charge said that ICE’s controversial detention and deportation policies make it nearly impossible for them to do their jobs.
They said that citizens and other law enforcement agencies don’t know the difference between HSI and ICE’s other main component, Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), the Texas Observer reported.
ERO manages the detention and deportation of illegal immigrants, a job that was handled by the Immigration and Naturalization Service before the creation of DHS after 9/11.
“The disparate functions performed by ERO and HSI often cause confusion among the public, the press, other law enforcement agencies and lawmakers because the two missions are not well understood and are erroneously combined,” the agents explained in the letter.
“Administrative actions have been mistaken for illegal investigations and warrantless searches. HSI’s investigations have been perceived as targeting undocumented aliens, instead of the transnational criminal organizations that facilitate cross border crimes impacting our communities and national security,” the letter continued.
“Many jurisdictions continue to refuse to work with HSI because of a perceived linkage to the politics of civil immigration,” the agents told Nielsen in the letter. “Other jurisdictions agree to partner with [HSI] as long as [ICE] is excluded from any public facing information.”
In other words, the agents said they couldn’t do their jobs as bigger-picture investigative agents for the nation if the people they needed to work with think they’re affiliated with ICE.
They also complained in the letter that budget resources for HSI were constantly being redirected to civil immigration enforcement measures.
DHS officials have shifted money from HSI to ERO on at least three occasions since 2011, including $34.5 million in 2016 alone, the Texas Observer reported.
The agents proposed restructuring ICE into two entirely new agencies in their letter to the DHS secretary.
The letter, which was signed by the regional supervisory agents from San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, Dallas, New York, Miami, Houston, New Orleans, Buffalo, Washington, DC, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Phoenix, San Antonio, Tampa, and Denver, tried to spin their request for a divorce from the ICE acronym in a positive way.
“HSI is constantly expending resources to explain the organizational differences to state and local partners, as well as to Congressional staff, and even within our own department — DHS,” they wrote. “The development of two new effective agencies is a positive step for the Department, as part of the progression that ICE has experienced since its inception fifteen years ago.
Former ICE Deputy Director Alonzo Peña told the Texas Observer that HSI agents feared that their mission was being sidelined because of the politically-charged atmosphere surrounding ICE.
Instead of “contributing to the welfare and safety of the country,” Peña said the agents were worried that HSI was “just becoming a political pawn for this administration.”
HSI was “supposed to be out there making these major cases, these big cartels that are smuggling guns, drugs, money. And because of this whole immigration rhetoric - that immigrants are bad, that they’re criminals and rapists and all that - the focus is totally off mission,” he explained.
Nielsen should certainly understand where the agents were coming from, even if she doesn’t take their suggestions. On June 19, the secretary was heckled by ICE opponents while she was out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant, USA Today reported.
Protesters angry about the Trump administration’s immigration policies filled the aisles of the restaurant, and surrounded her table, while they clapped and chanted, and generally disrupted dinner for everyone else in the establishment, too.