Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

'Rogue' DHS unions follow Obama's lead on deportation

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
May 22, 2013 -- Updated 1457 GMT (2257 HKT)
ICE security contractors prepare to deport Honduran immigration detainees in Mesa, Arizona, early this year
ICE security contractors prepare to deport Honduran immigration detainees in Mesa, Arizona, early this year
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: Two DHS unions now publicly oppose proposed immigration reform
  • He says this "rogue-ish" behavior awkward for President Obama, who supports reform bill
  • Obama turned blind eye to zealous deportation, even when it flouted Morton Memo, he says
  • Navarrette: Deportation-happy ICE officials no more "rogue" than the president's policies

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette.

San Diego (CNN) -- Welcome to the chaotic Department of Homeland Security.

Two unions -- representing nearly 20,000 DHS employees -- recently joined forces to publicly oppose the Senate immigration reform bill from the so-called "Gang of Eight."

News: Senate Judiciary Committee approves immigration legislation

The coalition represents 12,000 employees who are responsible for issuing documents that allow some immigrants to legally stay in the United States and 7,700 agents charged with deporting illegal immigrants out of the country. Together, the unions claim that the bill would weaken public safety.

What makes this situation awkward is that President Barack Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano have given tacit support to the Senate immigration reform bill. Obama has said that a pathway to citizenship must be included in any reform proposal. And as recently as last month, White House press secretary Jay Carney said that White House staffers had months ago huddled with the eight senators to help draft the legislation.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

As an additional wrinkle, many of these DHS employees who oppose the bill would be charged with helping to implement it, either by reviewing the applications of undocumented immigrants who would be seeking legal status or deporting those who didn't qualify for it. How that will ultimately work out is anyone's guess.

Some of this sounds familiar. Before the unions took on the Senate bill, they launched a rebellion closer to home.

In June 2011, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton fired off an internal memorandum -- the "Morton memo," as it became known -- to all directors, agents and general counsel in the agency's field offices.

In the memo, Morton advised the field personnel that they "may" exercise discretion and show leniency toward some illegal immigrants by weighing certain factors. They included the length of time the person had lived in the United States, whether the person arrived as a child, whether the person was pursuing an education, etc.

The Morton memo was heralded by immigration reform advocates as a major breakthrough. And yet, how did some in the field respond to the memo?

According to more than a dozen immigration attorneys I interviewed back then and many others I saw quoted elsewhere, they ignored it. You had rampant insubordination. And neither Morton nor his higher-ups, i.e. Napolitano and Obama, did anything to bring people back in line.

I suspect that the reason for this hands-off approach was that the ICE agents, by racking up deportations, were helping the administration meet its goal of deporting people -- which it has done at a rate of more than 1,000 per day. The high numbers were necessary so that the administration could portray itself to Congress and the American people as tough on immigration enforcement.

In October 2011, just four months after the Morton memo was issued, Napolitano delivered a speech at American University in which she boasted that the Department of Homeland Security was on track to set a new record for deportations in the 2011 fiscal year. It did. And in fiscal 2012, it broke that record again. At this rate, by the end of 2013, the administration will have deported 2 million people.

Those figures make the claims of Chris Crane, the head of the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council (the 7,700-member deportation agents' union), all the more ridiculous. Crane told the New York Times: "This department under this administration is doing anything and everything they can not to arrest any alien in the interior of the United States."

Crane should tell that to 10-year-old Stephanie Pucheta who, next month, will be spending Father's Day without her father, Julio Cesar Pucheta, who was deported in January.

In a video testimonial on behalf of the immigrant advocacy group Cuentame, the U.S.-born Stephanie explains how -- when a judge ordered her father removed from the country -- she couldn't stop crying.

She goes on to say: "My life has changed without my father. Since he's been gone, I miss him every day. Every morning when I wake up, I wonder why they didn't let him stay here. Why do they have to be so cruel to the families that are here?"

That's a really good question. This administration has been excessively cruel to illegal immigrants and their families. And, worse, it hasn't been willing to confess to the crime. Instead, it has led us to believe that its record number of deportations are partly the result of low-level agents and their supervisors going rogue and refusing to use discretion to the point where some of those being deported shouldn't be.

Is that really what's happening?

Napolitano has said all along she wants to remove illegal immigrants, more and more every year. That's what the low-level ICE agents were doing. So maybe they weren't being disobedient. Maybe, in trying to be both tough and compassionate, the entire administration is being duplicitous.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1918 GMT (0318 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says as violence claims three U.S. doctors, the temptation is to despair, but aid to Afghanistan has made it a much better place
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1833 GMT (0233 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says in California, Asian-Americans are against the use of racial criteria in public colleges.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1844 GMT (0244 HKT)
Heidi Schlumpf says if the Pope did tell an Argentinian woman married to a divorced man that she could take Communion, it may signify a softening of church rules on the divorced and sacraments
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Norcross, Georgia, Chief of Police Warren Summers says the new law that allows guns in bars, churches and schools will have unintended dangerous consequences.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Mel Robbins says social media is often ruled by haters, and people can be brutally honest.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1644 GMT (0044 HKT)
Mike Downey says the golf purists can take a hike; the game needs radical changes to win back fans and players.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Robert Hickey says most new housing development is high-end, catering to high-earners.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1229 GMT (2029 HKT)
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1104 GMT (1904 HKT)
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1737 GMT (0137 HKT)
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1256 GMT (2056 HKT)
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1708 GMT (0108 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT