- The Washington Times - Monday, September 13, 2004

A once-fragmented collection of understaffed and underfunded federal investigative and intelligence agencies has moved slowly during the past 18 months into its new role as the investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) inherited not only 20,000 agents, investigators and support personnel from the U.S. Customs Service, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, Federal Protective Service, and Federal Air Marshal Service, but also a multitude of long-standing problems and a host of new ones.

Created March 1, 2003, ICE has been described as the most complicated law-enforcement merger within the Department Homeland Security, uniting different jobs, missions, philosophies and responsibilities to prevent terrorists and others from exploiting America’s financial systems and immigration-enforcement policies.

“A number of agencies sent pieces of themselves to ICE and it has taken a tremendous effort by everyone, particularly those in the field, to try to create a program from scratch,” Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Michael J. Garcia, who heads ICE, told The Washington Times.

“This transition is unprecedented, but the men and women on the front lines didn’t lose a step,” Mr. Garcia said. “Not only are they doing new things, they are doing them well. I am confident everything the people in ICE have built and will build will survive.”

Mr. Garcia acknowledged that problems continue, including a lack of funding for manpower, resources and equipment, and some employees’ concerns about the agency’s mission and its complex administrative system, but he is confident that the agency is moving ahead.

“It has taken time to find out ICE’s role in preventing a new act of terrorism, where we fit in the overall picture, how we learn and adapt, what tools we need to get the job done, and how to use them more aggressively,” he said.

“But look at the service they have performed despite those uncertainties. We have come a very long way in a very short time.”

But some ICE employees have questioned whether the agency had a definitive mission statement and whether it had surrendered much of its investigative authority to the FBI. They also are concerned that ICE lacked experience in key administrative positions, and many complained that the computerized administrative functions had become a paperwork nightmare at ICE.

“If you look at where we have been and where we are going, I think we have made progress,” Mr. Garcia said. “It has been difficult and we’ve got more to do, but our accomplishments have been major and we are well on our way to becoming a very effective tool in the war on terrorism.”

Since its creation, ICE has deported 100,500 criminal aliens, made 11,000 arrests through its National Fugitive Operations Program, seized $350 million in suspect currency, arrested 3,300 alien sexual predators, conducted 3,000 criminal investigations, and seized $5.3 million from alien smugglers in Phoenix as part of Operation ICE Storm.

Mr. Garcia said although ICE is working with “limited resources,” President Bush’s 2005 budget request for $4.01 billion for ICE — up more than $300 million over fiscal 2004 — reflected what he called the vital role that the agency plays in “ensuring the security of the American people and our way of life.”

“We not only have created the second-largest investigative agency in the federal government, but a dynamic and innovative new law-enforcement organization uniquely and exclusively focused on homeland security,” he said.

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