The man who oversees the U.S. Border Patrol said Tuesday that if agents have a problem with President Obama’s deportation amnesty, they should quit.
The strong remarks by Customs and Border Protection Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske came as tensions between Congress and the White House grew even higher, with House GOP leaders announcing they’ll hold an unprecedented vote to have their chamber join in the lawsuit trying to halt the amnesty.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said he and his troops are determined to send a message that Mr. Obama’s moves have broken faith with the Constitution’s division of power between the legislature and the executive branch.”
This executive amnesty is a direct attack on the Congress’s Article I powers under the Constitution,” Mr. Ryan said. “The president is not permitted to write law. Only Congress is. The House will make that very clear.”
Mr. Obama announced his new policy in November 2014, granting what he called “deferred action” to as many as 5 million illegal immigrants he said have deep ties to the U.S. Those illegal immigrants were to be given a three-year stay of deportation, work permits and access to Social Security numbers, tax credits and some other government benefits.
The president also announced a new set of “priorities” for border and interior agents to follow, saying they should only target recent illegal immigrants and those with serious criminal records for arrest and deportation.
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The deferred action part of his plans has been halted by lower courts, and he has appealed to the Supreme Court. Mr. Ryan said the House will weigh in with an amicus brief arguing Mr. Obama broke the Constitution’s strictures by trying to rewrite immigration law on his own.
Meanwhile, the new enforcement priorities Mr. Obama announced are not part of the court case, but have proved controversial with the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who are tasked with enforcing the law.
In testimony to Congress last month, Brandon Judd, chief of the National Border Patrol Council, the labor union that represents line agents, said they’ve been told to reinstate the maligned catch-and-release policy of a decade ago.
Mr. Judd said illegal immigrants without serious criminal convictions have learned that by claiming they came before 2014 — without even needing to show proof — they can be released immediately, and they disappear into the shadows.Mr. Kerlikowske on Tuesday objected to that description. He said every illegal immigrant over the age of 14 who is encountered by agents is supposed to be fingerprinted, interviewed and put through the usual process, including being turned over to ICE for decisions on deportation.”
I would not stand by if the Border Patrol was releasing people without going through all of the formalities,” Mr. Kerlikowske testified to the House Committee on Appropriations.
Mr. Kerlikowske also questioned Mr. Judd’s veracity, saying the NBPC was “probably not the most knowledgeable organization about what’s actually going on.” And the commissioner said Mr. Judd and fellow agents who object to Mr. Obama’s policies should usher themselves out of their jobs.”
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Well, if you really don’t want to follow the directions of your superiors, including the president of the United States and the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, then you really do need to look for another job,” he said.
Shawn Moran, vice president of the NBPC, took “great offense” to the commissioner’s remarks.”
When it comes to catch and release, Border Patrol agents are the only ones following the law. The commissioner can dress it up any way he likes, but even though we are documenting people, they are being released into American society, never to be seen again,” Mr. Moran said.
He said the NBPC is directly in touch with line agents in the field, and said Mr. Kerlikowske gets his information filtered by layers of “yes men” at headquarters. Mr. Moran said agents do follow orders, even when they disagree with them, but have the right to speak out against them as well, and said the series of policies is taking a toll on the agency.
“This is part of the administration’s strategy to demoralize and disrupt agents and completely dismantle immigration enforcement,” he said. “They’re going to make the job so unbearable because they know they have a very motivated workforce, a very patriotic workforce that wants to uphold the laws, yet we have the president of the United States and the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection directly going against the rule of law.”
Mr. Kerlikowske even appeared to acknowledge problems with the demoralized workforce.Just minutes before he told agents to quit, he had told the committee that he’s having trouble filling the number of slots Congress has funded.
“We are not able to hire as fast as attrition,” he said, calling it “very concerning.”