Immigration Enforcement: DHS Actions Further Erode the Rule of Law

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer in Newark, Delaware, is facing suspension for refusing to release an illegal immigrant because he was not a “priority target” under the Obama Administration’s new immigration enforcement policies.

In March, the officer arrested an individual under suspicion that he was a criminal alien under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Turns out he wasn’t the man they were after, but he was an illegal alien with 10 previous traffic violations. Upon learning this, the officer moved to charge the illegal alien and let the courts sort it all out.

It all seems to make perfect sense, right? An ICE agent acted within the scope of his authority to enforce federal law then turned the case over to the courts. The agent’s supervisors, however, saw it differently and ordered the illegal immigrant released. The officer refused and now faces a possible three-day suspension. He also risks losing his job and his pension if he arrests another illegal immigrant not considered a priority target by the Administration.

In June of last year, ICE director John Morton issued a memorandum granting ICE officers discretion in enforcing federal law and pursuing illegal immigrants, placing an emphasis on the detention and deportation of illegal immigrants who pose a risk to national security or public safety or have committed a felony or repeat criminal offenses.

A second memorandum, released this past June, also called for the use of prosecutorial discretion for illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. under age 16 and are attending school or have served in the military. This time, the Administration’s actions served to undercut legislative efforts in an attempt to implement major elements of the DREAM Act, which has been considered and rejected by both Democratic- and Republican-controlled Congresses.

In discussing these memoranda, Heritage’s Matthew Spalding explains that “Secretary Janet Napolitano instructs her employees to use ‘prosecutorial discretion.’ But what she actually intends to do is take away discretion by laying out very specific criteria.”

If illegal immigrants do not meet the criteria, DHS will not prosecute them, a message that came out loud and clear in the situation in Newark earlier this year. However, not only was the illegal alien released in this case, but the ICE agent who refused to release him now faces disciplinary action.

This fact, as Senator Jeff Sessions (R–AL) explains, sends “a message to agents in the field that they will be punished for doing their duty and enforcing the law.” It once again shows the Obama Administration’s lack of commitment on immigration enforcement.

Rather than continuing to erode the rule of law, it’s time the Administration work with Congress to show the nation that it takes our country’s immigration challenges seriously.

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