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
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 0857 GMT (1657 HKT)
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2151 GMT (0551 HKT)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0134 GMT (0934 HKT)
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT