Last week USA Today got ahold of an email a Justice Department supervisor in San Diego sent to border authorities warning that the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy was diverting resources from drug-smuggling cases in southern California.
This week, the Texas Observer published a letter that 19 ICE regional supervisors sent to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen requesting that the current make-up of ICE be dissolved. They proposed creating a stand-alone investigations unit and another agency to handle immigration detention and deportation.
To understand their request, it is important to note that ICE was created in 2003 as part of the effort to consolidate programs under the Department of Homeland Security in response to the 9/11 attacks. It merged the U.S. Customs Service with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The activities of the former are now a division of ICE known as Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the latter are Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO).
The regional supervisors who wrote the letter to Nielsen are part of HSI, which has previously been tasked with investigating money laundering, drug trafficking, human smuggling, child exploitation and cybercrime. For example:
The agents have been involved in some of the highest-profile criminal investigations in recent years, including the takedown of the Silk Road website, an online market where illegal drugs and fake identifications were sold.
The agency was also involved in the arrest and capture of drug lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera, better known as “El Chapo,” who led the Sinaloa cartel before he was extradited to the United States last year.
H.S.I. is also the lead government agency for counter proliferation investigations, targeting individuals who illegally try to smuggle military and other high-tech equipment out of the country.
The HSI supervisors wrote:
“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 special agents in charge wrote in the previously unreported letter.
They also wrote that “the perception of HSI’s investigative independence is unnecessarily impacted by the political nature” of ICE’s immigration enforcement. “Many jurisdictions continue to refuse to work with HSI because of a perceived linkage to the politics of civil immigration.”
Former ICE deputy director Alonzo Peña explained that these agents fear that their mission is being sidelined.
Instead of “contributing to the welfare and safety of the country,” said Peña, the agents worry that HSI is “just becoming a political pawn for this administration.”
What this means is that the agents who are actually involved in investigating the kinds of criminals who threaten our security are now suggesting something pretty similar to the whole “abolish ICE” message we’re hearing from some liberals. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) has announced that he will introduce a bill that basically abolishes ICE and creates “a commission to provide recommendations to Congress on how the U.S. government can implement a humane immigration enforcement system that upholds the dignity of all individuals, while transferring necessary functions to other agencies.” A handful of House Democrats have recently been joined in that call by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Sen. Kamala Harris.
Of course none of this will actually happen as long as Republicans control Congress and Trump is in the White House. But the message from both investigators and prosecutors is an important one for all of us to hear: Trump’s immigration policies are making us less safe.