The Washington Times Weekly
Mayorkas set to fight cities with migrant sanctuaries
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas says he is preparing to take on sanctuary cities that refuse to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and he wants more illegal immigrants to face criminal prosecution for jumping the border.
He also rejected calls from some in President Biden’s political base to abolish or split up the government’s deportation agency.
Mr. Mayorkas revealed the hard-line stances during a recent virtual town hall forum with ICE employees. The Washington Times has reviewed notes of the conversation, in which Mr. Mayorkas said he is working on a set of deportation guidelines to govern how and when officers can arrest and attempt to deport illegal immigrants.
Pressed by ICE employees worried about public resistance to the agency’s work, Mr. Mayorkas said ICE has a “noble mission.”
“I’m 100% opposed to the abolition of ICE,” he told the employees. “It is the opposite of what I think needs to occur. I think we need to strengthen our policies and practices and communicate more effectively what we do and why we do it.”
In perhaps his most striking comments, Mr. Mayorkas said he thought more illegal immigrants should be prosecuted criminally. Illegal immigrants generally are handled under administrative law, with removal of punishment. But entering the U.S. without permission is a misdemeanor under Title 8 Section 1325, and reentering the country after being ousted is a felony under Title 8 Section 1326.
“I see cases now where we apprehend and remove individuals that I think need to be prosecuted criminally,” he said.
At another point, he said: “Quite frankly, I’m going to have to understand why some of these individuals are not subject to a Title 8 USC 1326 case and I intend to work with the DOJ in that regard.”
That is likely to provoke immigrant rights advocates who say the system is already tilted too far toward criminalization.
A group of professors at the UCLA School of Law filed a brief with the Supreme Court last month arguing that Section 1326 is racist in its origin.
“My view is that no one should be advocating for more 1326 prosecutions without first reckoning with its history,” Ahilan Arulanantham, one of the professors, told The Times. “I don’t know whether Secretary Mayorkas is aware of Section 1326’s origins. I’m sure many people who have prosecuted cases under it (and defended them, as I did for several years) are not.”
The Times asked the Department of Homeland Security for comment on that and other aspects of Mr. Mayorkas’ comments at the forum, but the department declined, citing “internal discussions with our personnel, including those that are deliberative and law enforcement sensitive.”
The Times shared Mr. Mayorkas’ comments with several current and former Homeland Security officials, who said some of the secretary’s words might sound good to the workforce, but they doubted his willingness or ability to see them through.
One of those officials, Jon Feere, a former top ICE employee who now is at the Center for Immigration Studies, said Mr. Mayorkas’ promise to tackle sanctuary cities rings hollow because his deportation policy is going to be so narrow that it will free many of the same illegal immigrants the sanctuaries want to protect.
“Mayorkas likely understands that some sanctuary policies are so ridiculous that even murderers might be released. But anything he does will still be contained within the Biden administration’s own narrow enforcement scheme,” Mr. Feere said. “Biden’s DHS is allowing thousands of criminal aliens to run free via its own policies.”
Another former Homeland Security official said Mr. Mayorkas was using the right words to talk to ICE but doubted his follow-through.
“I’ve seen this administration say a lot of things that I feel like they’re disingenuous about, and they know they can’t deliver on, but they pretend and leave their audience to believe they can deliver on. That’s what I see here,” that official said.
ICE has several major components: the nearly 5,000-strong deportation force known as Enforcement and Removal Operations; Homeland Security Investigations, with 7,000 agents who probe human smuggling, gang activity, child pornography and other crimes; and the Office of the Principal Legal Adviser, which litigates cases in the immigration courts.
During the forum, employees from each of those components pleaded for a firmer hand during the migrant surge.
One employee said the department was treating illegal immigrants at the border more leniently than American citizens for COVID-19 purposes. Several employees questioned the Biden administration’s border policy changes and said the Trump team’s protocols seemed to have worked.
One employee complained of “notoriously low morale” and blamed lack of support from Washington. Another employee demanded action on “racism, xenophobia, intolerance and the inflammatory rhetoric” in ICE field offices.
A number of questions asked whether ICE, stitched together in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, should be split up, with Homeland Security Investigations separate from Enforcement and Removal Operations.
One HSI employee said sanctuary cities refuse to work with ICE because of its deportation mission and won’t cooperate on other criminal investigations.
Mr. Mayorkas said the answer isn’t a divorce. “I also do not agree with splitting HSI off from ERO,” he said. Instead, he vowed to battle the most extreme of the sanctuary cities with “blanket policies” of an unwillingness to work with ICE.
“I know the jurisdictions, and that is going to be one of my significant priorities,” he said. “I think we have a lot of education to do, and I think we have a lot of educating to do not only with city officials in terms of what we do and how we do it.