On April 13, a woman called into WNYC radio in connection with a discussion of a strike by New York City public defenders to protest Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents attending courtrooms in the city to take custody of alien defendants charged with crimes. The ICE agents do this because the city has enacted stringent sanctuary policies that prohibit its police and corrections officers from cooperating or communicating with ICE over such aliens – or even conducting interviews within their facilities.
The woman identified herself as an ICE agent, as well as "a staunch Democrat and staunch liberal", according to WNYC's online print edition. She went on to say, "I can't give up a 19-year federal career that I worked hard for because of this idiot in office right now. I can't do that to my family, to my kids, as much as I would like to. Please understand that ICE agents, us – the lowest guys on the totem pole — are not always happy about having to do this. This is awful for us, too."
The agent's remarks have caused a furor within ICE offices in New York City. Her identity is apparently an open secret within ICE. Many agents have angrily disagreed with her assertions because, contrary to her statements, they fully support the work they are undertaking. We are told by sources that, irony of ironies, the woman is not even a member of the Enforcement and Removals Office (ERO), the division which primarily handles immigration enforcement matters, and which would be the division dispatching agents to the courtrooms. She is a member of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), which only handles certain kinds of immigration enforcement (in addition to customs matters) and, as I have noted repeatedly, often only in the most reluctant way. Many of the HSI agents came into ICE from the now disbanded U.S. Customs Service, not the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and are known for their patronizing disdain for doing any kind of immigration work, deeming it beneath them. The sources tell us that this woman is such a legacy Customs officer. Has this colored her views to the point of taint?
We are told that the matter was raised by infuriated agents with supervisors and managers in the office because they believed it merited a disciplinary investigation, only to be told that there was nothing they could do because she didn't "cross the line".
If it is true that they have declined to act on that basis, those managers and supervisors are completely wrong. While employees of the federal government don't surrender their rights as private citizens, they do when speaking as agents of that government. For instance, if an ICE agent who is also a parent were to attend a town hall meeting addressing school redistricting or access and safety issues, the agent would be free to speak as a parent as long as no reference or connection were made to the agent's job, lest the listeners presume the agent spoke in an official capacity.
In this case, the agent was very clearly speaking in her capacity as an agent. She had no permission to speak to the media, about which there are ICE rules and guidelines, and thus violated the code of conduct. What is more, there is a code of conduct that prohibits federal employees from engaging in speech or conduct that tends to bring the agency into public disrepute. Can anyone doubt that when she refers to the president as "this idiot in office right now" she has done so? Whatever her private beliefs, they have no place in her work environment. None.
It is also likely that she violated the Hatch Act, which carefully delineates the way federal employees involve themselves in partisan politics, to ensure that they never do so in an official capacity. Yet she declares herself a proud liberal and Democrat at the same time she publicly decries the official policies of her agency. That she chose not to personally identify herself is no more material than a leaker who chooses to be anonymous. It is the conduct that makes for the violation. It could be argued in fact that her refusal to identify herself clearly suggests that she knew she was engaging in prohibited conduct.
As to the managers and supervisors, one wonders what they could be thinking. They don't have the latitude to pick and choose which cases get moved into the investigatory chain for disciplinary purposes. They have a clear duty to report such matters either to ICE's Office of Professional Responsibility or to the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG). Failure to do so is itself a disciplinary offense. What is going on here?
One final note: It would be deeply ironic if the source of our information is accurately depicting the internal conspiracy of silence, because one of this woman's colleagues and supervisors at HSI in New York, C.J. Martinez, was invited as a special guest of the president during his state of the union address in February.