Officials at Immigration and Customs Enforcement told The Washington Post on Wednesday that the agency has been sidelined under President Joe Biden, who has resisted calls from Democrats to abolish ICE entirely.
"It’s a weird, frustrating time," said one ICE official, who spoke to the Post anonymously because they are not authorized to speak with reporters. The official noted an atmosphere of distrust in the agency, adding: "It feels like the administration doesn’t have our backs."
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said last week that the department plans to close two ICE detention centers, but told the Post in an interview this week that he doesn’t want to reduce ICE’s staff or funding, saying that his goal is to refocus the agency.
"I really am focused on it becoming a premier national security and law enforcement agency," Mayorkas said. "I really want to elevate all of the other work [ICE] does and also ensure that its civil immigration work is well-focused in the service of the national security and public safety mission."
The secretary added that he’s still conducting a review of the agency, and that he will likely make "significant changes" to ICE once it’s finished.
"What those changes will be, I am wrestling with right now, quite frankly," Mayorkas said.
Some Democrats have called for the administration to speed up their overhaul of the agency, with Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., telling the Post that "They have begun to do a lot of things to roll back the worst pieces of Trump administration policies, and their biggest accomplishment has been changing immigration enforcement in the interior to scale back who is being detained."
But she said Biden’s government isn’t "where we want them to be," and called on the administration to pause all deportations.
"We have to have a moratorium to fully assess what’s been going on," she said.
Republicans, including Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, ripped the government for their actions with ICE.
"The Biden administration and its radical allies are effectively abolishing ICE through administrative acts," said Brnovich.
"ICE is a crucial component in our ability to enforce immigration, customs and trade laws in our country," Rep. Charles Fleischmann, R-Tenn., said during a recent House budget hearing on the agency. "To demand that the agency responsible for enforcing those national security laws be dismantled is unconscionable."
Acting director of ICE Tae Johnson testified during that hearing that under Biden, ICE is "hyper focused" on serious offenders and that this is shown in the data, noting that 645 people were arrested by ICE under the new priorities last March, and 1,552 in April.
"The data shows that the individuals with the highest level of criminality is up," Johnson said. "And while our overall arrest numbers might not ever be as high as they were, I do expect the number of violent offenders to increase because folks are spending their time working on those types of cases."
He also said that ICE officials "cannot perform our jobs without the assistance of state and locals. We’re going to try to find some common ground and ways to encourage greater cooperation."
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