Thursday, September 15, 2005

Senators yesterday told the president’s choice to lead immigration law enforcement that they still are weighing a plan to reorganize her agency — and one Republican expressed doubt that she was qualified for the job.

Julie Myers was nominated by President Bush to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency that is charged with hunting down money launderers, sanctions busters and human traffickers and that is the sole enforcer of U.S. immigration laws.

Yesterday, she faced a confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs.

“I’m really concerned about your management experience,” Sen. George V. Voinovich, Ohio Republican, told her, pointing out that ICE, with 20,000 employees, is the second-largest investigative agency in the federal government.

“I think that we ought to have a meeting with [Homeland Security Secretary] Mike Chertoff … to ask him … why he thinks you’re qualified for the job,” Mr. Voinovich said. “Because based on your resume, I don’t think you are.”

Miss Myers has worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in Brooklyn on money laundering and export control issues at the Departments of Treasury and Commerce, and was chief of staff for Mr. Chertoff when he ran the Criminal Division at the Department of Justice.

Miss Myers said her experience “will serve me well.” She said she had worked with agents who once were part of the Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Parts of those agencies were melded into ICE with the formation of the Department of Homeland Security in March 2003.

Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, raised the issue of merging ICE with another agency founded from the breakup of the Customs Service and INS — Customs and Border Protection (CPB), which polices the nation’s ports of entry.

Mrs. Collins said a report by the department’s inspector general, which the committee commissioned last year and which would be “released shortly,” would “recommend the merger.”

“What I have found,” she said at the hearing, “and the [inspector general’s] report confirms, is that many field employees of the two agencies are very frustrated at what they see as the unnatural separation between the two organizations.”

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