GOP rep. presses ICE on re-naming of defunded advocacy position

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A Republican member of Congress is investigating whether the Obama administration circumvented the law by simply re-naming a position Congress specifically defunded.

Tennessee Republican Rep. Diane Black is trying to ascertain whether Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “ignored” the law when the nation’s immigration law enforcement body renamed ICE’s “public advocate” instead of eliminating the position after Congress defunded it.

In February 2012, Andrew Lorenzen-Strait was appointed  ICE’s “first-ever public advocate” to work with groups and those in immigration proceedings to answer questions and respond to recommendations.

That summer, Black argued the position was a waste of taxpayer money — a position intended to serve as a lobbyist for illegal immigrants — and introduced legislation to defund it.

“My amendment would deny the Obama administration funding for the illegal alien advocate position at ICE,” she said at the time.

“Contrary to what the Obama administration seems to think, the Department of Homeland Security was not created to act as a lobbying firm for illegal aliens,” Black continued. “Using taxpayer dollars to fund a position whose primary purpose is to advocate on behalf of individuals who have come into our country illegally is ridiculous and certainly a waste of precious taxpayer dollars.”

Her legislation passed unopposed by a voice vote in the House as an amendment to a Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill. According to her office, Black was able to get the language added to the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act 2013, which President Barack Obama signed into law on March 26, 2013.

On April 1, 2013, according to Black’s office, Lorenzen-Strait received a title change with no apparent changes to his job function.

According to documents obtained by Judicial Watch last month, Lorenzen-Strait’s new title is “Deputy Assistant Director Custody Programs and Community Outreach.”

In a letter to ICE Acting Director John Sandweg Monday, Black demanded to know by Oct. 7 what Lorenzen-Strait’s position between March 26, 2013 and April 1, 2013 was and what ”substantive differences, if any, exist between Mr. Lorenzen-Strait’s current position and his previous one as public advocate.”

“[I]t appears that Mr. Lorenzen-Strait was retained and assigned a new title with no substantive changes to his job function,” she wrote. “If true, this represents a serious violation of the public trust. ICE has a moral and legal responsibility to comply with the law and the will of Congress.”

“The sudden creation of a new position within your agency for Mr. Lorenzen-Strait casts further doubt on the idea that ICE has acted in good faith to comply with the law,” she added.

Earlier this month, ICE defended Lorenzen-Strait’s position to Fox News, explaining that “community outreach remains a necessary function at ICE in order to explain the agency’s mission and to be responsive to the needs of the public.”

ICE further praised Lorenzen-Strait to Fox News as “a career civil servant who serves as deputy assistant director of custody programs and community outreach, has helped lead the agency’s public engagement and detention reform portfolio since being hired by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2008 during the previous Administration.”

This story has been updated to reflect clarifications from Black’s office regarding the amendment’s legislative timeline.

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