The Immigration Managers - The Department of Homeland Security

By David North on October 1, 2009

The team of five Presidential appointees working on immigration management in the Department of Homeland Security include two people with substantial resumes in the immigration field, two neophytes, and one in-between. All five have law degrees.

The five positions on the current Departmental organization chart that play leading roles in immigration matters are the Secretary, the Deputy Secretary, and three agency heads with ranks at about the Assistant Secretary level.

The Secretary, former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, is one of the two with serious immigration policy credentials. As Governor she took tough, restrictionist stands on some issues, such as signing a law creating a harsh set of penalties for employers hiring illegals. Yet on others she decided differently, as she did in 2005 when she vetoed a bill that would have denied in-state tuition subsidies to illegal college students. She was the elected attorney-general of her state before becoming governor in 2002.

Her deputy, the principal overseer of the Department's operations, has a stunning resume, but with no immigration experience at all. She is Jane Holl Lute who: has five university degrees including both a Ph.D and a JD; was a major in the Army and a professor at West Point; served the Clinton White House on the National Security Council staff, and later was, among other things, an Assistant Secretary-General (for Peacebuilding Support) of the United Nations. Her spouse is a Lt. General in the U.S. Army and is another presidential appointee.

In the United Kingdom someone with this background would probably be serving as a Cabinet Member with a seat in the House of Lords. On the other hand, Sen. Coburn (R-OK) citing the failure of the U.N. peacekeeping in Lebanon, opposed her nomination which carried on a voice vote.

The three sub-cabinet officials who lead the three line agencies related to immigration in DHS all report to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary, so there is no single official, as there was in the old INS, to coordinate policies and operations short of the secretarial level. The three, in the order of their positions' seniority last spelled out in the Bush II administration, are sketched below.

The newly nominated (but not yet confirmed) Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection is Alan Bersin, the other immigration heavyweight on the team; he is currently serving as the Assistant Secretary for International Affairs at DHS. His prior positions have included that of California State Secretary of Education and (during the Clinton years) U.S. Attorney for Southern California. According to the Los Angeles Times: "he led campaigns against illegal immigration and drug mafias," and also served as Border Czar for the U.S. Justice Department. He attended Yale Law with the Clintons.

The agency he will lead includes the Border Patrol, a quasi-military, quasi-independent organization, the inspectors at the ports-of-entry and at the airports, and various Customs operations.

The Assistant Secretary in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is John T. Morton. A career government attorney, his official biography indicates that part of the time between 1994 and 1999 he was special assistant to the general counsel of the old INS; how long he was in that position is not clear. From 1999 to mid-2009 he served in various non-immigration-related Justice Department positions.

ICE is in charge of interior enforcement of the immigration law; it is ICE that is carrying out the Obama Administration's policy of encouraging mass firings of illegal aliens, rather than factory raids and deportations, which previously had been the norm. One such mass firing was reported on the front page of yesterday's New York Times.

Rounding out the trio is Alejandro Mayorkas, a native of Cuba, and a politically active and prominent California lawyer; he had been the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California in the Clinton years. He is now Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the entity that makes decisions as to who may apply for visas for their relatives, who gets the green card, and who becomes naturalized. It is not clear from his biography what immigration experience he has had, beyond his own.

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