Monday, January 24, 2005

Department of Homeland Security Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson, twice rebuffed by the White House in his bid to replace departing Secretary Tom Ridge, resigned yesterday, effective March 1.

Mr. Hutchinson — a former three-term Arkansas congressman and head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration who headed border and transportation security issues for Homeland Security — submitted his letter of resignation to the White House early yesterday morning.

“With confidence in the work that has been done and in the team that is being assembled for your second administration as president, I am satisfied that I can in good conscience take leave of administration service and pursue other responsibilities,” Mr. Hutchinson said in the letter.

Mr. Hutchinson, 54, who is thought to be considering a run for the Arkansas governor’s job in 2006, ended the letter with a thank you to the people of his home state, saying they had “faithfully supported me in my journey through public service.”

He has told reporters that he and his family had not yet formally made a decision about whether to enter the race.

“We’ll wait and see,” Mr. Hutchinson told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Sunday. “I’m ruling nothing out. I’m taking the decision-making process a step at a time.”

Earlier this month, President Bush named Michael Chertoff, a federal appeals court judge and former Justice Department prosecutor, to lead Homeland Security’s 180,000 employees and oversee its $33.8 billion budget. Mr. Chertoff was the president’s second pick, after the first nominee, Bernard Kerik, a former New York City police commissioner, withdrew over the questionable immigration status of a nanny he once employed.

Mr. Hutchinson came under fire in September after a luncheon meeting with editors and reporters at The Washington Times, during which he said it was “not realistic” to think law-enforcement authorities can arrest or deport the millions of illegal aliens now in the United States, that it was “probably accurate” to say no one was looking for them, and that he did not think the American public had the “will … to uproot” those aliens.

“I think they have too much compassion to tell our law-enforcement people to go out there and uproot those 8 million here — some of whom might have been here eight or 12 years, who got kids here that are American citizens — and to send them out of the country,” Mr. Hutchinson told the newspaper.

Mr. Hutchinson also was criticized in August when he sought to restrict the U.S. Border Patrol’s arrest of illegal aliens in the nation’s interior, saying he was concerned that the apprehension of 450 illegals by agents in inland areas of Southern California failed to consider the “sensitivities” of those detained.

The California arrests took place at public locations during a 19-day period. The aliens were taken into custody by a 12-member Border Patrol team based in Temecula, Calif., known as the Mobile Patrol Group, which since has been ordered to work highway checkpoints.

In a letter, Mr. Hutchinson assured Rep. Joe Baca, California Democrat, and other members of the state’s delegation who complained about the arrests, that in the future, Homeland Security would enforce immigration laws “in a reasonable manner” and would consider the “sensitivities” surrounding the enforcement of those laws in its interior-enforcement program.

Mr. Hutchinson, in The Times interview, said there was widespread disagreement within the country on what to do about immigration enforcement and on how to handle the millions of illegal aliens, mostly Mexican nationals, in the United States. He questioned whether the matter had been debated sufficiently.

He also said the goal of his department was to gain operational control of the border, which included monitoring the ports of entry and the land areas between, and responding in an effective manner.

“It doesn’t mean we build an Israel-type of fence. I don’t think we’re going to do that. I don’t think you want to have a strategy of a Border Patrol agent every 50 yards,” he said. “There’s a lot of compassion out there. You don’t send out a paddy wagon to round them up.”

Meanwhile, the White House yesterday said President Bush will nominate former deputy Transportation Secretary Michael Jackson as deputy secretary at Homeland Security, the agency’s No. 2 position. He will replace James Loy, who announced his resignation last month.

Mr. Jackson, who currently serves as chief operating officer of AECOM Technology Corp., was deputy secretary of Transportation from 2001 to 2003.

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