ICE Chief: AZ Immigration Enforcement Program Was 'Not a Good Use' of Tax Dollars

By Gabriella Hoffman and Fred Lucas | July 10, 2012 | 6:55pm EDT

Illegal immigrants in Nogales, Arizona wait to be deported to Mexico. (AP Photo/File)

( – Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton told lawmakers Tuesday that the administration hhad announced it was terminating its immigration-law enforcement agreements with state agencies in Arizona just hours after the Supreme Court's June 25 ruling on Arizona's illegal immigration law because it had not been "a good use of taxpayer resources."

Under section 287 (g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, state and local law enforcement forces can partner with ICE to enforce immigration laws in their jurisdictions.

Immediately following the Supreme Court’s ruling on Arizona Senate Bill 1070, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) suspended 287 (g) programs with the state’s law enforcement agencies.

The landmark decision deemed most of SB 1070’s provisions unconstitutional, but upheld the provision allowing Arizona law enforcement to request documentation from individuals suspected to be in the United States illegally.

During a hearing Tuesday of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on border and maritime security, vice-chairman Rep. Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) asked Morton about the decision to suspend 287(g) agreements in the state.

“I find it a little concerning that you recently gotten rid of the 287(g) agreement with Arizona state and local law enforcement agencies,” Quayle said. “What is the reasoning behind it? Why pick Arizona as the sole one right now, to actually remove a program that, you said, was an essential component of DHS’s comprehensive immigration enforcement strategy?”

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Morton replied that the Arizona immigration enforcement program was suspended due to inefficiency, not for political reasons.

“The agreements that we terminated in Arizona were task force agreements,” he said. “We did not terminate the jail model agreements, they continue in place.”

(The agreement between the DHS and local prisons and the Arizona Department of Corrections, which allows them to check inmates’ immigration status, remains in place.)

“Why did we terminate those [Arizona law enforcement] models?” Morton continued. “They were leading to no removals, and we viewed them as unproductive and not a good use of taxpayer resources.”

Quayle then questioned Morton about the timing of the decision, suggesting it was a political move aimed at undermining Arizona’s immigration law.

“The timing is extraordinarily curious,” he noted. “If the task force were not actually operating in the manner that you would have liked or the DHS would have liked, wouldn’t it have been a little bit sooner or maybe even a little bit later? But within hours of the Supreme Court ruling – that’s a very interesting timeline.”

Morton replied, “We were not going to renew the 287(g) agreements that were rescinded in Arizona for the next fiscal year, so we were going to terminate them anyway in a few months.”

“I think we did it [when we did] because we thought that it made the most sense to do it at the same time,” he added. “We knew that there would be questions how things would operate, and we wanted to set the record clear.”

Quayle also wanted to know why the administration appeared to be selective in taking legal action against certain communities, citing the case of Cook County in Illinois.

Earlier in the hearing, Morton had described the county as a holdout in the Secure Communities program. The program aims at identifying illegal aliens that are convicted of crimes and deporting them. To function the program required cooperation with local law enforcement and ICE.

Last September, the Cook County Board of Commissioners passed an ordinance declaring the county would not cooperate with Secure Communities and no longer detain illegal aliens jailed in misdemeanor and felony cases.

“Have you heard of any action the administration is going to take against Cook County?” Quayle asked Morton. “Are they going to sue Cook County? Are they going to have the DOJ get involved in taking them to court? They are actually contrary to what federal law [requires], rather than trying to aid federal law enforcement.”

“I have personally met with the Department of Justice to raise my concerns and those concerns are shared by the secretary and she has testified to that herself,” Morton said.

“So we are in the discussions with the Department of Justice to see what we can do on many fronts to come to a better resolution on Secure Communities in Cook County, because I think we all agree that the present approach is not a good one.”

Cook County, which incorporates Chicago, is the second most populous county in the U.S. according to the U.S. Census Bureau estimates for 2011.

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