- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 21, 2006

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents yesterday disputed claims by ICE officials who said a lack of housing, fuel, food and medicine caused a weeklong delay in sending them to Hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, insisting that sufficient supplies were in place to accommodate 260 agents.

“We have significant personnel in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and other areas who were waiting for us,” said a veteran ICE supervisor. “They had already established logistics, through initiative, and we had fuel from the state and New Orleans police along with [ready-made meals], water and shelter. … What else did we need to establish order and save lives?”

Last week, ICE agents and supervisors said 300 agents trained in disaster response in field offices nationwide were waiting to be sent to New Orleans for security and rescue efforts, but were grounded by officials from the Homeland Security Department. Instead, they said, they were not deployed until days after Katrina plowed through the Gulf Coast, killing more than 1,300 people and causing massive damage.

ICE spokesman Dean Boyd said the agency wanted to make sure before sending more agents to the area that enough infrastructure was in place so they would be “self-sufficient.” He said ICE worked closely with Homeland Security to deploy a large number of ICE personnel, adding that eventually more than 700 agents and support personnel were sent to help restore order and save lives.

But several ICE agents and supervisors said agents were ready to go within 24 hours of the storm and think they could have saved lives by helping New Orleans police restore order had they received the directive to deploy.

Other ICE agents who responded to a call from the agency’s headquarters in Washington to volunteer to help New Orleans victims said they waited in Houston for orders, but instead were sent home. They said they waited in a hotel for a week for deployment orders that never came.

“They told us to go home since they didn’t have the infrastructure in place to support us. We argued we could take care of ourselves, we were all veteran agents and wanted to help, but they said ‘go home,’ ” one agent said. “Instead, we watched the disaster on television and couldn’t do anything about it.”

One ICE agent, saying his unit was not dispatched to New Orleans until Sept. 3, said his “first hot meal” in New Orleans came from a Salvation Army mobile kitchen staff with three people older than 60.

“If three Social Security pensioners can drive into New Orleans, where were Brownie and Chertoff?” the agent said, referring to ousted Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael D. Brown and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. “My team finally got the call to deploy five days after Katrina hit.”

Mr. Chertoff has been criticized by members of Congress for his lack of leadership during the crisis. He has since created a permanent disaster response team of 1,500 employees.

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