During a Senate hearing on immigration reform Tuesday, Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano had a testy back-and-forth over the performance of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
Sessions challenged Napolitano on whether she had met with leader of the ICE employees’ union in the wake of reports of low morale among ICE agents. Napolitano replied that she had not.
“I think you should have met with them,” Sessions said. “I think there’s a real problem there. We have a very real problem. In December of 2012, a few months ago, a survey of federal agencies showed that morale of ICE employees has dropped in rankings to 279th out of 291 federal agencies. Were you aware that the morale at ICE has plummeted?”
“Oh yes and, in fact, employee morale is a real concern of mine, and it’s not just with ICE, it’s throughout the department,” Napolitano replied.
Sessions continued to press Napolitano on ICE, asking her if she was aware of the lawsuit filed by ICE union chief Chris Crane against Napolitano, ICE Director John Morton and U.S. Customs and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas over the administration’s changes to immigration policy.
“Senator, under is his direction, ICE is actually increased its enforcement efforts,” she replied. “It’s installed real priorities for the first time. He actually gets criticized for deporting too many people as opposed to not enough people. So it’s a difficult, difficult job to have but, when you look overall at the operation of ICE and where it was four years ago, they have removed more people, they have installed real priorities, and we now have secure communities installed nationally.”
“I couldn’t disagree more,” Sessions fired back. “I can’t disagree more about that. That’s not what the officers are saying. That’s not what Chris Crane, the head of the association, testified to yesterday.”
The Alabama Republican continued his attack on Napolitano for the morale of these ICE officials, noting that they’re not griping about wages or benefits, but instead about the difficulty of performing their jobs.
“There are tensions with union leadership, unfortunately,” she replied. “But here’s what I expect as a former federal prosecutor and attorney general, and that is that law enforcement agents will enforce the law in accord with the guidance they are given from their superiors. And that’s what we ask of ICE, that’s what we ask of border patrol, that’s what we ask throughout the department and I believe that would be consistent with all law enforcement.”
Sessions also challenged Napolitano’s response by suggesting her department was undermining congressional authority by hampering the agents’ ability to enforce the law. Napolitano disagreed, but said that these concerns only highlighted the need for immigration reform.