EDITOR'S NOTE: The following report is from the House Immigration Subcommittee's oversight hearing on the priorities of immigration enforcement. ICE Director John Morton had to defend the Administration's policy of granting deferred action or parole to illegal aliens who hadn't committed a serious crime. Rep. Ted Poe challenged Morton for implementing a policy that encourages future illegal immigration, while Rep. Trey Gowdy challenged Morton for creating a policy instead of asking Congress for assistance.
The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement hosted a hearing last week titled “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement: Priorities and the Rule of Law.”
The Congressmen in attendance were Elton Gallegly (Subcommittee Chairman) of California, Lamar Smith (Committee Chairman) of Texas, Steve King (Subcommittee Vice-Chairman) of Iowa, Ted Poe of Texas, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, Dennis Ross of Florida, Zoe Lofgren (Subcommittee Ranking Member) of California, Maxine Waters of California, and Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas.
This was an oversight hearing with ICE Director John Morton, who was called in to testify about the deferred removal “administrative amnesty” policy. However, there was also a second panel with witnesses from outside the Administration including Chris Crane with the National ICE Council (union for ICE employees), David Rivkin with the Baker and Hostetler law firm, Ray Tranchant with the Advanced Technology Center Tidewater Community College, and Paul Virture with the Baker and McKenzie law firm.
After Subcommittee Chairman Gallegly, Ranking Member Lofgren, and ICE director John Morton read their prepared opening statements, the real meat and potatoes of this hearing (like most hearings) was in the intense question and answer segment.
It was exciting to see Chairman Gallegly come out swinging against John Morton who remained loyal to President Obama and Secretary Napolitano and fiercely defended his deferred removal policy. Similar to the House Homeland Security hearing two weeks ago, the Republicans were angry and ready to confront this issue face-to-face. They got an ear full from constituents during the recess and were ready to take action, even though the policy was in operation months before it was made public. Gallegly wanted numbers like how many employers were fined and how many illegal aliens were actually removed, setting the stage for a larger argument.
Director Morton defended his numbers, but was hesitant to answer questions about specifics like the Chipotle case. He agreed that recidivism was a problem, yet maintained that ICE didn’t have the resources to cite and detain a vast majority of illegal aliens.
However, as Republican Members on the House Homeland Security Committee pointed out two weeks ago, ICE has never come to Congress requesting more funding to address this problem. Instead, they are simply happy to be funded above President Obama’s budget request.
Ranking Member Lofgren took over the questioning and immediately defended Morton with rhetorical questions addressing the usual Obama/Napolitano talking points. According to Director Morton and Mrs. Lofgren, ICE doesn’t have the resources to apprehend and remove more than 400,000 illegal aliens a year and as a result they have decided to prioritize criminal aliens and those “gaming the system.” Morton even added to Lofgren’s points by saying that “we can’t possibly hold someone for two years because of cost, so we have a retain docket and a non-retain docket.” He continued by saying, “It makes no sense to detain someone in medical need.”
Director Morton was trying to appeal to the Republicans by arguing for conservative management of existing funds. While I absolutely agree that we should not be providing extensive medical and legal services to illegal aliens, instead of conforming to the current system, why are Director Morton and Secretary Napolitano not asking Congress for legal solutions to these bureaucratic problems? With every opportunity before Congress, they defend their Department and policies, but never open a dialogue with Congress and staff to make specific changes to make their work more effective. And, when they do actually advocate a policy change, it’s usually some form of amnesty disguised as part of an overarching Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill.
When Congressman Ted Poe took over questioning he immediately began to ask about the deferred removal memo. Specifically, he asked who drafted the 20 factors used to determine who to pursue and who to ignore. Director Morton took credit for issuing the document. He said, “The White House and Department were involved, but I issued the document.”
Congressman Poe, who is a former judge, then asked what the legislative authority was for prosecutorial discretion.
Morton replied, “The Supreme Court,” which prompted Mr. Poe to ask, “but no statutory authority, correct?” Morton replied, “Correct.”
Congressman Poe then made an outstanding rhetorical point by saying, “there are 900,000 drunk driver arrests in the U.S. each year. If we only prosecuted those who killed someone, do you think that would discourage drunk driving?”
Morton responded by saying, “I’m a career prosecutor.”
Poe returned the smug response by saying, “I know your background. Just answer the question.”
Morton was silent, Mr. Poe’s question time was expired, and he closed by saying “It encourages people to come here illegally.” Director Morton then quipped back, “The law gives the Secretary of Homeland Security authority to set procedures and policies.”
This was a truly great line of questioning for Congressman Poe. First of all, it revealed the smug arrogance of John Morton, which explains no one really likes working for or with him. Second, Mr. Poe’s drunk driving analogy explained how the deferred removal policy undercuts the effectiveness of the law against illegal immigration altogether.
After Congressman Poe, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas used her question time to, as usual, advocate for comprehensive immigration “amnesty” reform and the need for a “compassionate system.” She even told a sad story about a teacher friend of hers who was “torn from the classroom after 20 years.”
In other words, the teacher was deported after being caught in the country illegally. Contrary to Mrs. Jackson Lee, we have a very compassionate system, much better than other countries. The illegal aliens are provided access to free health care and legal services for goodness sake.
When Congressman Ross of Florida took over questioning, he asked about the countries that would not cooperate in taking back aliens ordered to be removed from the United States. Director Morton said those were the toughest cases and that individuals from nations where we have no diplomatic relations like Cuba, Iran, and Somalia would often be set free if there were no criminal charges pending. Other countries like Vietnam and Cambodia were so slow to take back their nationals that it wasn’t worth the cost of detaining someone that long.
When it was Congresswoman Maxine Waters turn to ask questions she asked about the process and cost of adjudication for the “undocumented.” Director Morton said it took many many years to process individuals and that taxpayers pay for all removal proceedings and detention. Returning to his fiscal management argument, he said, “We remove high priority cases at the expense of low priority cases.”
However, Mrs. Waters closed by asking if Director Morton had heard anything about expanding resources. On the surface it seemed as though Mrs. Waters was asking why the Department had not asked for more money, yet she was trying to make the point that the problem persists despite the available funding.
At this point, the Subcommittee lost order as Ranking Member Lofgren chimed to claim that “Immigration Judges have a crushing work load.” She was trying to defend Director Morton’s resource management argument, but Chairman Gallegly replied that the problem was self-inflicted and full of arbitrary decisions to delay the process.
Mrs. Lofgren was offended and said, “you just made a serious accusation.”
Mr. Gallegly responded, “no, just a statement” before resuming order and yielding to Committee Chairman Lamar Smith of Texas.
Chairman Smith asked why ICE seldom deports illegal workers. Director Morton smugly replied, “Arrests are down.”
In return, Chairman Smith said those jobs should go to unemployed Americans not illegal aliens.
Director Morton then said, “I’m focusing on criminals” in one of those “you can’t tell me what to do” kind of responses.
Chairman Smith then asked about deferred action and if those released were able to get work authorized.
Morton said the current law allows for work authorization. Chairman Smith closed by saying he hoped it was a small amount because otherwise they were taking jobs from unemployed Americans.
Congressman Gowdy of South Carolina was next in line for questions and he asked about the specific memo and if any immigrant rights groups like La Raza were consulted with by the White House, but Director Morton didn’t know one way or the other. Mr. Gowdy then asked why a legislative remedy was not pursued and why ICE and the Department of Homeland Security didn’t talk to Congress first. However, Director Morton responded by saying Congress told him to focus on criminal aliens.
Mr. Gowdy then yielded in frustration to Congressman Steve King of Iowa who continued the line of questioning about who developed the policy. Mr. King was the last Congressman in line for questions before Chairman Gallegly presented his closing remarks and yielded to the second panel.
The second panel of witnesses was very good, just not as meaningful or emotionally involved as the direct questions for Director Morton. The main theme was how there was real separation between the Administration and the ICE agents in the field. Chris Crane with the National ICE Council said agents are frustrated and morale is low. Congressman King even asked, “Do you ever get the feeling you go to work, dig a hole, and fill it back before you leave?”
Congressman Gowdy asked about the rank and file ICE agents and their thoughts on the new policy. Mr. Crane said, “It definitely has political overtones. It’s about satisfying groups and not law enforcement.”
Mr. Gowdy then asked if the agents were actually prohibited from interacting with certain categories of people which prompted Mr. Crane to read from his orders that “If the aliens are not criminals, they will not be arrested. You will not talk to anyone else in the house.” Mr. Crane insisted that this was the wrong strategy because those left behind were once a primary source in tracking down other criminals.
Congressman Gohmert closed out the hearing in frustration, claiming that “we have degenerated into a third world country where it’s all about who you know.” I can think of dozens of people who share his frustration, including many of those on the Committee and their constituents. The Administration just doesn’t listen and doesn’t care, which makes everyone including the Chairman, feel powerless.
JONATHAN OSBORNE is the Chief Legislative Analyst for NumbersUSA
Updated: Thu, Jun 15th 2017 @ 4:21pm EDT