Immigration and Customs Enforcement criminal investigators will no longer be involved in immigration work site enforcement or conduct checks for illegal alien prisoners.
Almost 1,000 ICE Office of Investigations agents will be reassigned exclusively to customs investigations, reducing the manpower involved in detention and removal of illegal aliens to 4,000 nationwide, according to documents obtained by The Washington Times and interviews with ICE union representatives.
ICE officials refused to comment on the internal documents or clarify the number of investigators that are to be reassigned.
The Washington Times has obtained an internal August memorandum written by ICE Office of Investigations Director Marcy Forman and Director John P. Torres, with Detention and Removal Operations (DRO), listing the new protocols for the agency.
Prior to the memorandum, the Office of Investigations worked hand in hand with Detention and Removal agents to remove and deport illegal alien absconders.
"[Detention and Removal] is a rapidly expanding program with the responsibility for ensuring that all removable aliens are detained in a safe environment and expeditiously removed from the United States. DRO has the responsibility for detaining and removing illegal aliens apprehended by ICE, [Customs and Border Protection] and, as resources allow, other law enforcement entities," states the Aug. 20 memo. "It is the vision of ICE for DRO to assume primary responsibility for non-investigative administrative arrests, for example, state and local law enforcement response to interdiction of immigration violators or probation and parole referrals."
Resources and manpower, however, are scarce, ICE agents say.
"They're just not there," said Jim Brown, a spokesman for American Federation of Government Employees. "Again, the bottom line is our folks are going to work this to the best of their ability, but the agency is leaving us short by not providing staff and resources. I don't think our members will be able to carry out that mission. Eventually, something is going to give."
The agency's interior enforcement strategy has long been criticized for not addressing the millions of illegal aliens living and working in the United States.
Since September 11, critics argue that the government has committed far too few resources and agents to the task. Adding to the problem, critics say, is the absence of real sanctions on employers who hire illegal aliens but rarely face charges or fines.
"Despite the costs, the country's interior-enforcement program historically has been neglected and understaffed," Michael W. Cutler, a retired U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services senior agent and criminal investigator, told The Times in a 2004 article. "We have only been given the illusion of making a serious effort to enforce our immigration law."
Mr. Brown touted similar complaints.
Before the August memo, roughly 5,000 federal agents were assigned to the task of detecting, detaining and deporting millions of foreign nationals.
With the removal of the criminal investigative agents from internal enforcement, "ICE will be left with 4,000 agents nationwide to handle the estimated 12 million people here illegally, and that's just not enough," said Mr. Brown, who is also an agent with the Fugitive Operation unit.
Rep. Ted Poe, Texas Republican and outspoken critic of lax immigration enforcement, said resources need to be allocated to ensure the removal of criminal illegal aliens from the U.S.
"It lacks wisdom to take 20 percent of your work force who know how to deal with criminal detainees — experienced officers — and make grapefruit inspectors out of them," Mr. Poe said.
For example, Mr. Brown said, only 14 new officers were reassigned in June to assist with the jail program for all six of the New England states. The jail program allows ICE agents to root out illegal aliens from being released into the U.S.; instead the violators are extradited back to their home country.
Mr. Brown points to a former illegal alien parolee charged in the early August killing of three New Jersey college students as an example of why more agents are needed. The suspect had been granted bail on child rape charges unknown to immigration officials.
"We don't have the manpower to do all the checks," Mr. Brown said. "It's just not there, and we may see the same situation like Newark happening again."