Lawsuit by Career ICE Attorney Exposes Obama Anti-Enforcement Campaign

By Jessica M. Vaughan on November 11, 2014

Last week Patricia Vroom, an attorney with an exemplary 26-year career at ICE filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Arizona that depicts in shocking detail how a tightly-knit band of her superiors apparently bullied her and other career lawyers to force compliance with the Obama administration's immigration enforcement suppression scheme. In addition to describing a hostile work environment spoiled by sexual harassment, threats, insults, and other deplorable behavior of these top managers, Vroom's complaint provides alarming examples of how personnel were told to ignore the law and routinely release and dismiss charges on entire categories of criminal aliens, including certain convicted felons, drunk drivers, DACA applicants, and illegal juveniles from the border surge.

The complaint has enough juicy scenes for a night-time television drama, but what it reveals about the Obama administration's reckless disdain for immigration enforcement is especially troubling. It is the latest in a series of lawsuits that demonstrate a disturbing pattern of abuse of authority among favored and ideologically driven senior staff in DHS agencies.Vroom describes some specific examples of how the so-called prosecutorial discretion policies have been implemented, and of the effort to destroy professional integrity in ICE's legal division:

  • Beginning in May 2009, this clique of top supervisors launched a "purge" of senior chief counsels, targeting them for "harassment, reassignment of duties to much less desirable ones, public humiliation, and brutal scapegoating" in order to place cronies in those key positions to carry out administration policy changes. Like other senior ICE attorneys, Vroom says she was targeted after the now-disgraced acting head of ICE, John Sandweg, "screamed" to her supervisor that the Phoenix office, which she ran, was "all f***ed up" for not implementing "prosecutorial discretion" to their satisfaction.
  • Morale in ICE's legal division is tied for lowest among all the DHS agencies, along with ERO, the division that is responsible for identifying and removing aliens. ICE lawyers report in the annual morale survey that they lack trust in ICE senior leadership.
  • Vroom was instructed by a superior to implement a program known as the Arizona Identity Theft Initiative, whose purpose was to drop and release hundreds of cases of illegal aliens convicted of felony identity theft in Arizona, even those whose crimes were so serious that they served several years in state prison and who under the law are subject to mandatory ICE detention before removal. The justification from ICE headquarters was that such aliens "had simply been using a fake ID to get and keep employment." I have reported previously on this dubious initiative, and have been told by other ICE sources that some of the beneficiaries were immigration activists in Arizona.
  • Vroom reports that she was criticized by superiors for too carefully scrutinizing cases and giving too much "pushback" on the 2013 order to release criminal aliens under the infamous "Criminal Alien File Review Project", in which 2,200 ICE detainees were released, ostensibly due to ICE budget mismanagement. It was later reported that administration officials misled Congress and the public regarding the criminal records of those released.
  • The complaint describes how the same supervisory attorneys forced Vroom to drop a slam-dunk removal case against an alien who had been convicted of falsely claiming U.S. citizenship on two occasions in order to register to vote. One supervisor derided her for not understanding the prosecutorial discretion and "efficiency" goals of the administration.
  • After an applicant was found to be ineligible for the DACA legalization (the executive amnesty for the so-called "Dreamers") due to a conviction for identity theft in Arizona, Vroom was ordered to "threaten" her local ICE colleagues to drop the deportation charges, apparently so that top officials in Washington who wanted the alien to stay could keep their hands clean of the case.
  • Vroom states that in September 2014 ICE attorneys were ordered to begin exercising "prosecutorial discretion" in cases of aliens convicted of DUI if they were "old" cases and if the alien had U.S. family members. When a number of attorneys objected to a particular example of such a criminal alien, the supervisor said, "We [ICE leadership] don't give a s*** about that. Let it go."
  • This account is corroborated by what I have been told on separate occasions by several other ICE sources, that juveniles who arrived in the recent border surge are not to be considered for removal, despite the administration's claims that they are "in deportation proceedings", It confirms reports from my sources who have said that this directive came from the White House early in 2014, before the magnitude of the surge became widely known. According to a recent disclosure, only 13 percent of the surge juveniles who have had court dates in recent months were ordered removed, and most of those were because the juvenile did not show up for the hearing.

The senior ICE managers named in Vroom's lawsuit who are responsible for imposing these policies and intimidating the career ICE personnel who resisted the policies are:

  • Peter Vincent, ICE's principal legal advisor and senior counselor for international policy, supervising 1,000 ICE attorneys, until he resigned in late October. In the complaint he is accused of numerous instances of sexual harassment, among other allegations;
  • Riah Ramlogan, deputy principal legal advisor;
  • Jim Stolley, field legal operations manager;
  • Sarah Hartnett, field legal operations manager;
  • Matt Downer, field legal operations manager.