Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

'Rogue' DHS unions follow Obama's lead on deportation

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
updated 10:57 AM EDT, Wed May 22, 2013
ICE security contractors prepare to deport Honduran immigration detainees in Mesa, Arizona, early this year
ICE security contractors prepare to deport Honduran immigration detainees in Mesa, Arizona, early this year
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: Two DHS unions now publicly oppose proposed immigration reform
  • He says this "rogue-ish" behavior awkward for President Obama, who supports reform bill
  • Obama turned blind eye to zealous deportation, even when it flouted Morton Memo, he says
  • Navarrette: Deportation-happy ICE officials no more "rogue" than the president's policies

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette.

San Diego (CNN) -- Welcome to the chaotic Department of Homeland Security.

Two unions -- representing nearly 20,000 DHS employees -- recently joined forces to publicly oppose the Senate immigration reform bill from the so-called "Gang of Eight."

News: Senate Judiciary Committee approves immigration legislation

The coalition represents 12,000 employees who are responsible for issuing documents that allow some immigrants to legally stay in the United States and 7,700 agents charged with deporting illegal immigrants out of the country. Together, the unions claim that the bill would weaken public safety.

What makes this situation awkward is that President Barack Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano have given tacit support to the Senate immigration reform bill. Obama has said that a pathway to citizenship must be included in any reform proposal. And as recently as last month, White House press secretary Jay Carney said that White House staffers had months ago huddled with the eight senators to help draft the legislation.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

As an additional wrinkle, many of these DHS employees who oppose the bill would be charged with helping to implement it, either by reviewing the applications of undocumented immigrants who would be seeking legal status or deporting those who didn't qualify for it. How that will ultimately work out is anyone's guess.

Some of this sounds familiar. Before the unions took on the Senate bill, they launched a rebellion closer to home.

In June 2011, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton fired off an internal memorandum -- the "Morton memo," as it became known -- to all directors, agents and general counsel in the agency's field offices.

In the memo, Morton advised the field personnel that they "may" exercise discretion and show leniency toward some illegal immigrants by weighing certain factors. They included the length of time the person had lived in the United States, whether the person arrived as a child, whether the person was pursuing an education, etc.

The Morton memo was heralded by immigration reform advocates as a major breakthrough. And yet, how did some in the field respond to the memo?

According to more than a dozen immigration attorneys I interviewed back then and many others I saw quoted elsewhere, they ignored it. You had rampant insubordination. And neither Morton nor his higher-ups, i.e. Napolitano and Obama, did anything to bring people back in line.

I suspect that the reason for this hands-off approach was that the ICE agents, by racking up deportations, were helping the administration meet its goal of deporting people -- which it has done at a rate of more than 1,000 per day. The high numbers were necessary so that the administration could portray itself to Congress and the American people as tough on immigration enforcement.

In October 2011, just four months after the Morton memo was issued, Napolitano delivered a speech at American University in which she boasted that the Department of Homeland Security was on track to set a new record for deportations in the 2011 fiscal year. It did. And in fiscal 2012, it broke that record again. At this rate, by the end of 2013, the administration will have deported 2 million people.

Those figures make the claims of Chris Crane, the head of the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council (the 7,700-member deportation agents' union), all the more ridiculous. Crane told the New York Times: "This department under this administration is doing anything and everything they can not to arrest any alien in the interior of the United States."

Crane should tell that to 10-year-old Stephanie Pucheta who, next month, will be spending Father's Day without her father, Julio Cesar Pucheta, who was deported in January.

In a video testimonial on behalf of the immigrant advocacy group Cuentame, the U.S.-born Stephanie explains how -- when a judge ordered her father removed from the country -- she couldn't stop crying.

She goes on to say: "My life has changed without my father. Since he's been gone, I miss him every day. Every morning when I wake up, I wonder why they didn't let him stay here. Why do they have to be so cruel to the families that are here?"

That's a really good question. This administration has been excessively cruel to illegal immigrants and their families. And, worse, it hasn't been willing to confess to the crime. Instead, it has led us to believe that its record number of deportations are partly the result of low-level agents and their supervisors going rogue and refusing to use discretion to the point where some of those being deported shouldn't be.

Is that really what's happening?

Napolitano has said all along she wants to remove illegal immigrants, more and more every year. That's what the low-level ICE agents were doing. So maybe they weren't being disobedient. Maybe, in trying to be both tough and compassionate, the entire administration is being duplicitous.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT