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ICE Can’t Ramp Up Deportations with 'Far Fewer' Officers than NYPD, Former Official Says

In this Feb. 9, 2017, photo provided U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE agents target a home in Atlanta. (Bryan Cox/ICE via AP)

WASHINGTON – If Congress approves President Trump’s proposal to hire 10,000 additional Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, the agency would still have fewer officers than the New York City Police Department, according to a former ICE official.

“With those 10,000, ICE will still have far fewer agents than the NYPD, and so yet they are supposed to faithfully execute on all removable aliens. That’s simply not a sustainable goal, so I think a funding challenge for ICE and not only ICE but all throughout the immigration life cycle – the judges,” Julie Myers Wood, former assistant secretary of Homeland Security at ICE from 2006 to 2008, said at the Migration Policy Institute’s “First 100 Days: Immigration Policy in the Trump Administration” event last week.

“And while the attorney general has talked about a modest increase in judges – I would say it’s modest – transportation, detention, the whole logistics, immigration attorneys, all of that must be increased if you are going to really ramp [deportations] up,” added Wood, the CEO of Guidepost Solutions LLC.

ICE currently has more than 20,000 officers while the NYPD has about 34,500 uniformed officers.

Stewart Verdery Jr., former assistant secretary for Policy and Planning at the Department of Homeland Security from 2003 to 2005, explained the challenges of hiring additional ICE officers.

“The press really misses the boat when the president says we’re going to have 10,000 more ICE officers – well, maybe you will, maybe you won’t. Congress has a huge role to play. Those people are expensive,” he said. “They’ve proven difficult to hire because of the background check issues – same thing for [Customs and Border Protection] and even more so for kind of the less-sexy personnel people, the judges, the courts, the lawyers and the like that you need for the system to work if you are going to be ramping up deportation.”

Wood said the Trump administration’s messaging on illegal immigration has contributed to the sharp decline in apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“It’s too early to see whether it’s going to be a long-term trend. This is the time of year – as you know, there is seasonality in terms of migration to the U.S. This is the time of year where we’re expecting it to go up. It is promising to see this drop at the border and I think messaging has to be, kind of, a part of the reason that there is this drop at the border with all this attention there,” she said. “Given that illegal migration is always very complex, there could be other factors we are not yet aware of that could be kind of weighing in as well as economics in home countries or other things. From my point of view, I think the messaging is a part of it.”

The other panelists were also asked if Trump’s tougher talk on border security and enforcement could be a reason for the decrease in illegal border crossings.

Muzaffar Chishti, director of MPI’s office at NYU School of Law, echoed Wood’s view on the issue.

“In terms of trends, you have to acknowledge the trend that for the last 17 years at least apprehensions seemed to go up this season. It’s the first time from the period of January to March that we have seen a huge decline,” he said. “It’s clearly an across-the-board decline, so it has to be something related to the messaging.”

In response to the same question, Verdery said drug and human smuggling operations are raising their prices.

“We’ve been told that the prices for smuggling operations have skyrocketed because it’s harder, and so people are asking for more money. There is a market dynamic to this just like anything else,” he said.

Verdery also said the Trump administration could couple its security message with a welcoming one for legal travelers to the United States in the future.

“‘We want you to come if you are a legitimate traveler, a tourist, a student’ has gotten missed to some extent by the administration so far, but they don’t have to be mutually exclusive,” he said.

Wood described former President Obama’s message as, “Come into the U.S. without authorization … not convicted of a felony, you will not be a priority.” Contrary to Obama’s approach, Wood said Trump’s executive order on immigration enforcement tells federal agencies to “employ all means to enforce laws against all removable aliens.”

“I think that messaging is really something fundamentally different because when you start looking at the activities of the agency, of ICE and CBP, they are quite similar to the activities in the Obama administration but the messaging is different,” she said.

Verdery predicted that the Trump administration would win in the Supreme Court if its executive order that restricts travel to the U.S. from some Muslim-majority countries ends up there.

“Having served over at DHS, the idea that a court, or as Attorney General Sessions called it, a judge on some island, but any judge would be involved in the micromanagement of how we make border security determinations is really quite unusual. I remember when I was working at DHS and with State and with FBI, it seemed like our power essentially was unlimited, and so you’ve got that train of thought, which is very deep in our case law,” Verdery said.

“But then you have the religious test litigation, so, if you read the opinions in the Ninth Circuit, in the Fourth Circuit, the Virginia case and in the Hawaii case, it’s almost like they’re barely looking at the same law. The opinions don’t even talk about the same cases, the same legal authorities and the like. So this is going to end up in the Supreme Court, I think probably sooner rather than later. It’s hard to bet, of course, but I think any president’s authority around the border is pretty robust and I expect that the president will win,” he added.

Verdery was referring to Sessions’ recent comments about the executive order on travel heading to the Supreme Court.

“We won a case in Virginia recently that was a nicely written order that just demolished, I thought, all the arguments that some of the other people have been making. We are confident that the president will prevail on appeal and particularly in the Supreme Court, if not the Ninth Circuit,” Sessions said on Mark Levin’s radio show. “So this is a huge matter. I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power.”