National ICE Council Freezes the Obama Blitz

By Stephen Steinlight on January 11, 2012

His eyes fixed on November 6, President Obama is desperately trying to stop hemorrhaging political support in a Hispanic community outraged by the success of his administration's data-based deportation policy and whose vote is potentially critical in several swing states he won by a razor's edge in 2008. It has sent some 400,000 illegal aliens home a year for a total of about a million during his time in office. A frenetic effort is now on to shift gears and show results well before the election.

But as we've noted previously, translating policy change into practice in the foundering Titanic that is the nation's immigration system is far more easily said than done. There are a great many ways change unpopular with employees can be sabotaged in any institutional system, but none is more effective than seeking to fast-track a policy that is anathema to the people whose job it is to carry out. This is especially true when the employees perceive the change as ideologically offensive and politically motivated, as well as at odds with their own deeply-ingrained understanding of their professional mission and the socio-political values that undergird it.

In the final analysis, it matters very little if top leadership at the Department of Homeland Security and at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are on board and are boosters. It matters only slightly more if, as Julia Preston informs us in the January 7 edition of the New York Times:

Virtually all ICE commanding officers and prosecutors have gone through the training course and are working on the new strategy, Homeland Security Department officials said. But because of the silence from the ICE Council, a local of the American Federation of Government Employees, the officials will miss their Jan. 13 goal for completing the nationwide training blitz, which began in November.

As my colleague Dominique Peridans noted yesterday, the president of the 7,000 strong National ICE Council, Chris Crane, has (to use New York Times parlance) "fiercely attacked" the administration's new strategy, asserting it represents the wholesale abandonment of the rule of law. His union represents the agents at the tip of the spear of ICE, and if they mutiny the system grinds to a halt.

Further, Crane has denounced the administration for changing ICE's mission in a naked effort to pander to the Hispanic community to help President Obama's re-election prospects. Crane has stated, "Law enforcement and public safety have taken a back seat to attempts to satisfy immigrant advocacy groups." Crane has also termed the administration's new policy – the one that is aimed at separating oxymoronic "law-abiding illegal aliens" from those who commit violent felonies – a "backdoor amnesty" and has also asserted that the proposed change has "undermined the agency's credibility and mission."

The prospect of getting the National ICE Council to direct its members to support the Obama initiative is extremely doubtful in this election year, and Crane has been sure to see that his grievances become part of the national political debate over immigration by closeting himself with Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

The Times reporter notes, "Without the formal assent of the union, the administration's strategy could be significantly slowed for months in labor negotiations." The time frame means everything. Every month that passes without a resolution not only keeps Hispanic anger at the boiling point but it also brings us closer to the election. The Obama administration's failure to get the ICE union to do its bidding not only means there will be no quick fix to a policy that has engendered tremendous alienation within the Hispanic community; it simultaneously makes the president appear weak and feckless. For Obama, the steely determination of the National ICE Council represents a clear danger to re-election.