The Times’ Julia Preston has another update from the bureaucrats’ revolt at Immigration & Customs Enforcement. ICE bureaucrats have been in open revolt against the Obama administration since the Obama team took office. Working in tandem with arch-restrictionist know-nothings in Congress, Lamar Smith and Charles Grassley, the ICE bureaucracy has tried at every step to thwart the administration’s goal of a smarter and more humane immigration policy. As the election of 2012 grows closer and the administration grows bolder in challenging the restrictionists, a collision is inevitable and it will have reverberations in presidential politics as well as immigrant communities.
President Obama and his ICE director John Morton never got much of a honeymoon with the ICE bureaucracy. The bureaucracy they inherited was coming off quite the “roid rage” after the Bush years. Prolonged detention, special registration, workplace raids, the ideological purging of the Board of Immigration Appeals empowered the bureaucracy to think they could do anything. This attitude resulted in debacles such as the Postville raid, where the term “assembly-line justice” got new meaning as immigrants were packaged into convictions and deportations as efficiently as the chickens and hogs the immigrants once slaughtered were turned into deli meats. When the new administration came in and declared that it intended to focus ICE resources on employers who abuse immigrants and those immigrants who present a danger to our community or are a national security threat, the ICE bureaucracy fumed about “backdoor amnesty” and lamented the ability to arrest scores of hard-working non-criminal immigrants at big show raids.
ICE’s unhappiness with the administration grew as the political leadership announced that it would demand that its agents focus on deporting those who presented dangers to the community and to de-emphasize the removal of individuals who did not present any danger and had been in the U.S. for a long time. Why would ICE agents be against focusing their resources on criminals and dangers to national security? Well, to be fair, they are not. However, they have the same level of antipathy for the mother trying to care for a family as they do for a convicted criminal. ICE has been notoriously incapable of distinguishing between those who present a danger to our community and those who do not. And, since ICE likes to go out and arrest people, it is safe to assume that ICE agents would prefer to knock down a door of a peaceful family rather than a violent criminal who might have a weapon.
Finally, the administration announced that it was formalizing the efforts to get immigration officials to focus on the dangerous and violent rather than the hardworking and peaceful by conducting a top-to-bottom review of pending removal proceedings and the decisions that go into the initiation of removal proceedings. In response to these directives, ICE bureaucrats cockily state that “nothing has changed.” Bureaucratic intransigence means that event the most insignificant discretionary decisions now are made at the national level as ICE bureaucrats passively fight the administrations policy goals.
Leading the charge against the administration’s efforts to pursue sane immigration policy is Chris Crane, the president of the ICE bureaucrats union. The union has voted “no confidence” in Mr. Morton and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and is now dragging its feet on completing mandatory training on the new discretion policies. Why is this tolerated? This is not just a case of insubordination– particularly ironic in an agency that tries so hard to ape military discipline– but also a subversion of democracy. In America, the bureaucrats are supposed to follow the legal policy orders of the elected branch. When they do not, they are directly undermining our democracy. Of course, if they find doing their duty distasteful, they can always do the honorable thing and quit.
The President seems to be getting some confidence in taking on the restrictionists. However, his ability to battle the restrictionists in Congress and the undoubtedly restrictionist Republican nominee, he will first need to fight the rear-guard action against the bureaucrats attempting to undermine his policies from the inside.