Citing concern over the agency's image, ICE chief John Morton has announced a makeover and renaming of key bureaus so as to de-emphasize the immigration component of their work. This move is just silly on so many levels, but does illustrate three things:
1. The Obama administration is self-conscious and uncomfortable with the idea of enforcing immigration laws and will try to avoid it at all cost.
2. All the emphasis on removing criminal aliens might not have the desired effect on public perceptions, as it does reinforce an association of immigration, especially illegal immigration, with crime. We now know from ICE's Secure Communities initiative, which automatically checks the immigration status of people booked into local jails, that about 11 percent of new inmates are removable aliens.
3. On the other hand, the emphasis on criminal rather than civil enforcement responsibilities is in some ways appropriate, and actually would be helpful if energetically directed at the alien-smuggling business. Nowadays illegal immigration should be understood not as an anthropological phenomenon (as open borders proponents suggest) but as a form of organized crime. No longer do individual illegal aliens scoot across the frontier in a cat-and-mouse game with the Border Patrol. More typically, they contract with smuggling organizations which arrange guided group crossings or set them up with documents to enter through ports of entry as imposters. Then they are stashed in drop houses in places like Phoenix, during which time the smugglers might extort their family members for additional money. The smuggling organizations then arrange transportation to their final destination in vans, chartered buses, or airplanes. After they arrive, the illegal aliens are turned over to a different division of the criminal enterprise, which supplies them with a stolen or false identity and documents, and hooks them up with jobs. There is a structure to the smuggling organizations and lots of laws are broken in the process, which includes routine violence, extortion, money laundering, theft, and fraud. ICE is the only agency with the tools and the authorities to disrupt and dismantle this particular kind of organized crime, which is certainly no less destructive to our society than the importation of pirated DVDs and stolen Chinese antiquities, and probably has many more victims. We'll see if Morton will put his money and agents where his mouth is.