Controversial ICE Director Morton Steps Down – With Praise From Napolitano

June 17, 2013 - 4:27 PM

John Morton

ICE Director John Morton. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) – John Morton, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) since he was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009, announced he would be stepping down from the post next month.

"I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished together during that time and look with awe on the incredible progress ICE has made as an agency," Morton wrote in a memo to employees on Monday, according to USA Today and other media. "ICE has truly come of age and become an innovative, leading force in federal law enforcement."

His boss, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, praised Morton in a statement released after his resignation was announced.

"I am deeply grateful for Director Morton's contributions to (the Department of Homeland Security), ICE and our nation and I wish him all the best in his coming endeavors," Napolitano said. "John will be missed."

But Morton’s tenure at ICE has not been without controversy. In June 2011, Morton issued a memorandum directing ICE agents in the field to use “prosecutorial discretion” when detaining people for being in the country illegally. Morton outlined a plan that made illegal aliens who have committed “serious” crimes a priority for law enforcement action.

As reported earlier by CNSNews.com, Kris Crane, head of the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council 118 of the American Federation of Government Employees, testified in February that ICE was “crumbling from within” because agents were not allowed to enforce immigration law.

“I think most Americans assume that ICE agents and officers are empowered by the government to enforce the law,” Crane said on Wednesday at a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on immigration reform. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

“With 11 million illegal aliens in the U.S., ICE agents are now prohibited from arresting illegal aliens solely on charges of illegal entry or VISA overstay – the two most frequently violated sections of U.S. immigration law,” Crane said.

Earlier this year, as reported by CNSNews.com, Morton told Congress he released some 2,228 illegal aliens because of across-the-board budget cuts put into place by President Barack Obama through the Budget Control Act of 2011.

At a House Judiciary Committee hearing in March, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) asked Morton about the releases, including how many illegal aliens had been released who had been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol.

“I don’t have the exact number, but we have released many individuals who had DUI offenses,” Morton said.

In January, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) called for Morton’s resignation on the Senate floor.

“Mr. Morton can no longer effectively serve at this post, and perhaps more importantly there can be no comprehensive immigration reform as long as he’s the person in charge with enforcing it,” Sessions said.