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GOP lawmakers want Obama to hear out head of ICE union

Seek an airing of concerns about Senate bill

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The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and a top Republican senator on Thursday told President Obama that he and his aides must meet with immigration law enforcement "whistleblowers" who can expose the flaws in the Senate immigration bill.

In a letter to Mr. Obama, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, of Virginia, and Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, said the head of the union representing Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and officers has been seeking a meeting for three months but has been shut out.

"To be effective any immigration reform bill must heed the warnings from our federal immigration agents. Unfortunately, far from being included in the process, ICE officers have been shut out and have even had their day-to-day operations handcuffed by [Department of Homeland Security] officials to the point of being unable to carry out their sworn duties," the two Republican lawmakers said.

Mr. Goodlatte's signature is particularly important since he is the chairman of the committee that will write most of the House's immigration bill.

Chris Crane, the head of the ICE union, has been a prominent critic of the Senate immigration bill, but this week the chief of another key union representing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — the workers who would have to approve legalization applications — announced their opposition, too. Kenneth Palinkas, the union chief, said they are already pushed to rubber-stamp applications, and said if that happens with the Senate's legalization it will mean fraud and potentially dangerous immigrants gaining legal footing.

Mr. Crane has been seeking a meeting with Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano and Mr. Obama for months, but the president hasn't accepted.

Mr. Obama has met with other stakeholders in the immigration debate, including this week meeting with illegal immigrants who have been granted a stay of deportation under his policies.

Earlier this year, Ms. Napolitano testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Mr. Sessions asked her if she had met with Mr. Crane to talk about his concerns.

She said it wasn't Mr. Crane's job to worry about top-line policy.

"The priorities are not set, with all respect and appreciation for the hard work of our agents in the field. They don't set the policy. They get guidance from their leadership as to what they should focus upon and that's what ICE has done," she said.

Ms. Napolitano has said the Senate immigration bill would give her department the tools and resources to secure the border — though she has already said it is secure enough — and to improve interior enforcement.

Mr. Crane, though, says the Senate bill weakens ICE agents' ability to pursue illegal immigrants.

Those comments were somewhat echoed Wednesday by Julie Myers Wood, who ran ICE under President George W. Bush and who said the Senate bill does restrict interior enforcement.

She said the bill shifts the burden for proving an illegal immigrant should be detained onto the federal government, rather than current law which presumes illegal immigrants should be detained unless there's a good reason not to. And she said the bill creates too many chances for illegal immigrants to gum up deportations with court appeals.

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