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Immigration and customs enforcement
By John Morton
[Editor’s note: John Morton, the Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, delivered the following statement on Oct. 12, 2011 before the House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement, at a hearing entitled, "Oversight Hearing on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement: Priorities and the Rule of Law."]
Chairman Gallegly, Ranking Member Lofgren, and distinguished members of the Subcommittee:
On behalf of Secretary Napolitano, thank you for the opportunity to address you today regarding U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). As the investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), ICE's primary mission is to promote homeland security and public safety through the criminal and civil enforcement of federal laws governing border control, customs, trade, and immigration. The men and women of ICE do this every day by carrying out ICE’s role in (1) protecting the borders through smart and effective immigration enforcement; (2) securing and managing our borders against illicit trade, travel, and finance; and (3) preventing terrorism and enhancing national security.
We are effectively managing our resources by carrying out our responsibilities in a smart, fair, and efficient manner. In the last two and a half years, we have made unprecedented strides across our agency, and as a result, we have made communities across America, and Americans around the world, safer and more secure. I welcome this opportunity today to share with you our successes and our opportunities as we move into a new year.
Protecting the Borders Through Smart and Effective Immigration Enforcement
There has been much discussion in recent months about the Administration’s approach to immigration enforcement. The Administration’s policies have been alternatively described as either an unprecedented effort to deport record numbers of individuals arbitrarily, or as an administrative amnesty that ignores the Government’s responsibility to the enforce immigration laws. Both characterizations are inaccurate. The Administration’s policy guidance governing immigration enforcement makes this clear, as does its enforcement record. ICE has worked to develop guidance to help focus ICE’s enforcement efforts on our highest priorities, including: aliens who pose dangers to national security or risks to public safety; recent illegal entrants; repeat violators of immigration law; and aliens who are fugitives from justice or otherwise obstruct immigration controls.
This approach has yielded results. DHS has produced record immigration enforcement. In FY 2010, ICE removed a record 195,772 criminal aliens, more than any other year in history, and 81,000 more criminal removals than in FY 2008. Nearly 50 percent of the aliens we removed in FY 2010 had been convicted of criminal offenses. Removing these individuals helps to promote public safety in communities across the country. We expect that this trend will continue, and that this fiscal year, we will again remove a record number of criminal aliens from the country.
Of those we removed in 2010 who lacked criminal convictions, more than two thirds were either recent border entrants or repeat immigration law violators. As such, and unlike ever before, an overwhelming majority of the aliens removed fell into one of ICE’s enforcement priorities. In fact, the number of individuals removed who could not definitively be placed into at least one of the priority categories -- for example, those who were not immigration fugitives, repeat immigration law violators, or removed at the border -- dropped from more than 19 percent in 2008 to less than 10 percent in 2010. We expect to see similar results in FY 2011 as well.
DHS must ensure that our immigration enforcement resources are focused on the removal of those who constitute our highest priorities, specifically individuals who pose threats to public safety such as criminal aliens and national security threats, as well as repeat immigration law violators, recent border entrants, and fugitives from justice or those who otherwise obstruct immigration controls. There are a significant number of cases currently pending before U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) immigration courts, many of these will take years to resolve. Tens of thousands more are pending review in federal courts. Each of these cases costs taxpayers thousands of dollars, and those involving low priority individuals divert resources and attention from high priority cases. Due to the fiscal limitations, the expenditure of significant resources on cases that fall outside of DHS enforcement priorities hinders our public safety mission by consuming litigation resources and diverting resources away from higher-priority individuals.
Prosecutorial discretion has always been exercised in order to prioritize the use of immigration enforcement resources. The Immigration and Naturalization Service under the Department of Justice and later ICE under DHS has used discretion on a case-by-case basis where we feel it has been appropriate and responsible to do so, and where it enhances our ability to meet our priorities. In keeping with this practice, DHS and DOJ have recently established an interagency working group to implement existing guidance regarding the appropriate use of prosecutorial discretion in a manner consistent with our enforcement priorities.