Error aggravates ICE doubts

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The Department of Homeland Security has issued a public apology to its investigative arm — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — for mistakenly including the agency in the “travel security and immigration” section instead of the “law enforcement section” of a career expo scheduled for today.

In an open letter to ICE officers and agents, many of whom were offended by the listing and expressed outrage to department officials, Marta Perez, chief human capital officer at Homeland Security, said she was “distressed” to discover the error and offered her “sincere apologies to each of you for this mistake.”

The expo is scheduled for today at the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center in the District.

The error was made at a time when many at ICE were questioning the agency’s role within Homeland Security and top officials at Homeland Security and the Justice Department had been asked to assess ICE’s productivity to determine whether the agency’s investigative functions should be turned over to another agency, including the FBI.

The assessment, according to federal law-enforcement authorities and congressional investigators, was ordered in response to criticism by lawmakers on Capitol Hill and from dissenters within the agency that ICE — created in March 2003 — was not getting the job done, particularly in the area of immigration enforcement.

“I have spoken personally to ICE Assistant Secretary Julie Myers to express my regret for this error, and I have assured her that the department places the highest value on ICE’s continued and many law enforcement contributions,” Ms. Perez said in the letter.

Meanwhile, key ICE officials have been asked by Homeland Security’s top supervisors to assess the agency’s overall productivity in several investigative areas, with the goal of identifying those in which it might want to divest itself. The review has targeted overlapping jurisdictions, including drug trafficking and money laundering.

ICE has come under fire since 2005, when some members of Congress first began to question whether it could be effective as a stand-alone investigative agency, Many called for its merger with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which includes the U.S. Border Patrol, to carry out immigration enforcement and border security.

In November 2005, the inspector general’s office at Homeland Security described ongoing immigration and customs investigations as inefficient. In a report, the IG’s office said Homeland Security’s organizational structure had resulted in “significant problems” in the apprehension and detention of illegal aliens and the coordination of intelligence.

The report said merging ICE and CBP would create a “true border enforcement agency enhanced not only by the seamless integration of enforcement functions, but by the melding of customs and immigration authorities as well.”

In the ongoing assessment, one suggestion has been that ICE investigators who came from the now-defunct U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service with an expertise in investigating immigration cases be retained at ICE while those from the U.S. Customs Service, whose investigations were more broadly spread, be merged elsewhere.

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