The Blind Will Be Leading the Blind at ICE

By Dan Cadman on May 4, 2015

Twice in recent weeks I've written about Sarah Saldana, the latest in a string of directors at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) during the Obama administration, who took office last December.

Neither piece was particularly flattering, because she has quickly proven herself to be extremely tractable to the political whims of her bosses rather than true to her duties as head of a large enforcement organization with weighty responsibilities, and because even though she is a lawyer and former U.S. attorney, she hasn't taken the time to learn the laws governing immigration law enforcement and deportation.

Perhaps the lack of expertise in the law could be more easily overlooked if she were backed up by good, competent counsel from her professional legal adviser (PLA). After all, immigration and nationality law, like tax law, is complicated and sometimes downright byzantine — the devil truly is in the details where immigration law enforcement is concerned — and Saldana's had less than six months on the job. But don't count on that happening anytime soon.

The general counsel at the Department of Homeland Security has just announced that a newcomer will be taking over the job of ICE PLA on June 1. She is Gendolyn Keyes Fleming, presently at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). She has absolutely no immigration experience or background – none at all.

In the past, both Democratic and Republican administrations have placed political appointees into the position of chief legal adviser, but they have selected appointees with knowledge and experience in the field. They have all realized what this administration apparently doesn't: There isn't any time for learning curves when thrown into such a demanding and sensitive position. Of course, that presupposes that White House officials care about the law and its enforcement; these don't.

If that was the end of the story, it would be bad enough, but it isn't. Right now, the agency is besieged with a number of discrimination and sexual harassment complaints, from their agent corps and even from among their career senior attorneys.

Think that the new PLA will be able to calm those roiled waters? Don't count on it. According to an inspector general report, multiple and severe cases of sexual harassment, and viewing of pornography on official time using official equipment, went unchecked at the EPA and, inexplicably, no actions to discipline the individuals were taken for many months. Keyes Fleming is currently chief of staff to the administrator of that agency.

Here's a part of what the I.G. report, which was published in two parts, has to say: "The investigation substantiated that senior level officials at EPA received information regarding multiple claims of unwelcome conduct and verbal exchanges by Jutro [the harrassing official]. The investigation further substantiated that those officials did not take any action against Jutro as a result of receiving this information about Jutro. ... [Our] investigation was negatively impacted and delayed due to the fact that these senior level officials did not notify OIG about their knowledge of other incidents of Jutro's inappropriate behavior."

Keyes Fleming was one of four senior officials specifically named in the report as having been aware of the incidents, but taking no action, and in fact delaying the investigation into Jutro. The worst part is that these officials were forewarned about prior harassment incidents involving Mr. Jutro before he even encumbered the job at EPA, and yet they chose to say and do nothing, leading to a whole new round of sexual harrassment while in that agency.

So why is Keyes Fleming now being placed in ICE?