Union President Gives Congress Emails Backing Testimony: ICE Ordered Agents Not to Arrest Illegals

November 8, 2011 - 6:20 PM
ice

AP Photo.

(CNSNews.com) - Chris Crane, president of the union that represents the nation’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers, has provided the House Judiciary Committee and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) with what Crane says are internal ICE emails that back up testimony he gave in July and October that ICE headquarters had verbally ordered officers in the field not to arrest illegal aliens who did not have prior criminal convictions--even if they were fugitives evading deportation orders or were individuals who had illegally re-entered the United States after being deported and were thus committing a felony.

“Increasingly, ICE headquarters leadership refuses to put directives to supervisors, agents and officers in the field regarding law enforcement operations in writing,” Crane told the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration in written testimony submitted on July 26.

“Orders and directives are given orally to prevent the activities of ICE's leadership from becoming public,” Crane, president of the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council 118, testified. “Agents and officers in the field are frequently under orders not to arrest persons suspected of being in the United States illegally.

“At times those no-arrest orders include ICE fugitives, who have been ordered deported by an immigration judge, as well as individuals who have reentered the U.S. following deportation which is a federal felony,” Crane testified. “Agents and officers report that they are ordered not to run criminal or immigration background checks or even speak to individuals whom they reasonably suspect are in the U.S. illegally.”

“These directives prevent officers and agents from enforcing U.S. immigration laws and prevent the apprehension of fugitives, felons and other individuals who may present a threat to public safety,” said Crane. “Situations in which officers and agents are ordered not to run criminal background checks or speak to individuals create an especially high risk to public safety as agents may unknowingly walk away from individuals who pose a public threat.”

When Crane returned to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration on Oct. 12, he repeated his testimony that ICE agents had been ordered not to arrest some illegal aliens.

“Aliens who could not be arrested included but were not limited to ICE fugitives that had been ordered deported by a federal immigration judge as well as aliens who had illegally re-entered the United States after deportation, a federal felony,” Crane told the subcommittee.

John Morton

Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton.

“ICE officers and agents also alleged that they were not permitted to arrest or even speak to confirmed or suspected illegal aliens encountered in the field during operations and were prohibited from running standard criminal record checks for wants and warrants,” said Crane, who also serves as an active-duty ICE officer.

Crane testified in October that House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) had allowed the union to “bring officers forward as witnesses” and “to turn over several internal ICE documents” backing up his previous testimony.

“I would like to thank Chairman Smith and his staff for working with the union regarding this matter after the July 25 hearing,” Crane testified. “Chairman Smith provided us with the opportunity to bring officers forward as witnesses. We were also able to turn over several internal ICE documents which appear to not only verify that these activities did in fact take place, but also named several senior level ICE managers allegedly involved in issuing the directives nationwide.”

Crane also provided these documents--a set of email communications--to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R.-Ala.), who is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sessions' staff provided CNSNews.com with copies of these emails and CNSNews.com then verified directly with Crane that the emails Sessions' office had given CNSNews.com were the same documents Crane had provided to both Sessions and to the House Judiciary Committee. Crane confirmed that they were.

The House Judiciary Committee would not directly comment on the documents Crane had handed over. “The House Judiciary Committee will not comment on confidential documents provided to the committee for oversight purposes,” a House Judiciary staff member told CNSNews.com.

However, Judiciary Chairman Smith provided a written statement to CNSNews.com when asked to comment on the contents of the emails CNSNews.com had received from Sessions, saying they were evidence of a pattern in which the Obama administration is not enforcing the immigration law.

The emails that Crane gave to Sen. Sessions were not pristine. The names of mid-level and lower-level ICE officials have been redacted from them and some of the text has been underlined or printed in red ink. Also one email has a notation added to it to explain, among other things, that the term "Fugs" is a nickname for ICE's fugitive operations officers.

Sen. Sessions’ office said the emails Crane gave Sen. Sessions already included these redactions and highlighting. Crane told CNSNews.com that he was in fact responsible for redacting and highlighting parts of the emails before he handed them over to Congress.

Also, the emails include a string of messages sent on May 13 in which two of the messages are marked with a time that is out of chronological sequence with others in the chain. When CNSNews.com asked Crane about the time markings on these emails, he said that that is the way they were when he received them from the ICE field officers who were his sources for the documents.

Additionally, while the names of mid- and lower-level ICE officials have been redacted from the emails, the names of two top ICE officials have not been. These are Thomas Homan and John “Kip” Crowther. Homan is ICE’s deputy executive associate director for Enforcement and Removal Operations. Crowther is ICE’s deputy assistant director for the Fugitive Operations Division.

Despite the alterations Crane made in the emails before handing them over to Congress, Sen. Sessions’ office says it has no reason to believe they are inauthentic or fabricated.

Janet Napolitano

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

As is, the emails appear to provide an inside glimpse of nationwide ICE operations conducted in May 2011 that were part of ICE’s “Cross Check” program, which was designed to prioritize the arrest and deportation of illegal aliens who have already been convicted of crimes—as opposed to those who are fugitives from deportation orders or are only wanted for crimes and have not yet been arrested and put on trial.

Sent back and forth between mid-level and lower-level ICE officials, they describe verbal orders that top ICE officials at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. allegedly issued to the agents in the field.

The first email was sent on May 4. (OP Crosscheck Email 1.pdf)   According to an explanation of this email that Crane provided to Sen. Sessions, it is from a local ICE manager to his field officers. The subject is what Enforcement and Removal Operations Director Homan and Fugitive Operations Director Crowther told the local manager in a “teleconference” about the upcoming “Cross Check” operation.

One section of the email cites what the manager says he heard from Homan.

“Per Deputy Associate Director Homan: This is not a fugitive operation,” the local ICE manager says in the email. “This is an operation targeting criminal aliens. If the aliens you encounter are not criminal, they will not be arrested. He specifically addressed this by referencing a non-criminal fugitive. He stated point blank … ‘Am I telling you to walk away from a non-criminal fugitive or a non-criminal reinstate? YES!’”  (OP Crosscheck Email 1.pdf)

A “non-criminal reinstate” refers to an alien who has been deported and has illegally reentered the country.

In the same email, the local manager explains what he says he heard on the teleconference from Crowther, the director of Fugitive Operations.

Lamar Smith

House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R.-Texas) (AP photo)

“Per DAD [deputy assistant director] Kip Crowther: He tightened it up even further …” said the manager’s email. “ONLY TARGETS WILL BE ARRESTED. There will be no collateral arrests of any kind with this op. He stated ‘I know this is a little different then your normal operating procedure, but you have you’re marching orders…’ This was contradicted by Homan later in the call….”

“He [Homan] added that no enforcement activities, including surveillance will take place in sensitive locations….,” wrote the manager.

“Per Homan: If we identify a non-targeted criminal alien, we should arrest them,” the manager’s email continued. “However, per him, we should be looking for Alien A, talking to Alien A, and arresting Alien A, not everybody in the house. If we can’t identify the target (poor picture, no picture, etc.) and we are talking to a couple of people to determine their identity, and we find a confirmed criminal alien, they should be arrested. But if you enter a residence, find Alien A and arrest them, why are you wasting your time talking to everybody else in the house?”

A second internal ICE email that Crane provided to Sen. Sessions is what Crane described to Sen. Sessions as a message from local ICE managers to their subordinate managers. This email, sent on May 9, described the reporting procedures that officers in the field were expected to follow during the upcoming Cross Check operations. The email repeats the point made in the earlier email that ICE headquarters did not want ICE officers in the field to arrest--or even interview--any illegal alien not known to have already been convicted of a crime.

“I’m sure it has already filtered down to everyone, but as of right now, they only want targets arrested unless you come across a collateral that is a confirmed convicted criminal alien,” said the email. “They went as far as to say, like [name redacted] wrote in his summation of the last conference call, that if you see your target, you should arrest your target and leave the scene w/o anyone else being interviewed. I’m not sure what else to say about that, but I will not be able to enter any information in the database if it relates to a non-convicted, non-criminal alien.” (OP Crosscheck Email 2(1).pdf)

A third set of documents that Crane provided to Sen. Sessions is a chain of emails that begins on May 10 with a manager giving directions to subordinates on how to enter arrests in a database. On May 13, however, this chain of emails turns into an exchange in which an officer asks whether “reinstatements” (deported illegal aliens who have re-entered the country) are “off limits” for arrest. When told that only reinstatements who have already been convicted of a crime can be arrested, the officer asks to be removed from the operations because he does not want people to commit felonies in his presence. (OP Crosscheck Email 3.pdf)

This email chains includes two messages that seems to be out of chronological sequence--unless, perhaps, they were sent from another time zone than the others in the chain, or if the clock was wrong in the computer from which it was sent.

“What about reinstatements? Are they off limits for this operation?” a subordinate emailed the superior at 6:53 a.m.

“Criminals only, so criminal reinstatements are OK,” the superior emailed back at 6:55 a.m. (OP Crosscheck Email 3.pdf)

“Criminal reentries only!!!” says the next email, which is marked as being sent at 5:56—seemingly 59 minutes earlier than the email that precedes it.

“That’s the great thing about reentries, they are all criminals,” says another email sent by a subordinate at 7:58 a.m.. “I will arrest any reentry I encounter based on the fact that a felony has been committed in my presence. If there is a problem with that they best sit me out of this operation.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

“I want to see the Fugs [Fugitive Operations officers] walk away from a restaurant with no-one, because there is no target working there,” a supervising officer then directed in an email marked as being sent at 7:23 — seemingly 35 minutes before the one that precedes it.

A subordinate then responded--in an email marked as being sent at 8:36 a.m.--by asking to be removed from the operation if he could not arrest a deported illegal alien who had re-entered the U.S. and was, therefore, committing a felony in his presence.

“I am serious about my email,” he said. “If that is going to be a problem then I respectively [sic] request to be removed from this operation. I will not walk away from a reentry, period! If the United States Attorney’s Office declines prosecution and management want to release that individual because it was somehow not an authorized immigration arrest, then that is on management, but I will not turn a blind eye to a felony committed before me. Please address these issues with management and let me know if I am to report for work on Sunday.” (OP Crosscheck Email 3.pdf)

The superior emailed back in a message marked as being sent at 8:43 a.m.: “I will speak to [name redacted] about this issue.”

Five weeks after this alleged internal ICE email exchange, ICE issued a press release that specifically said that “all” of the aliens arrested in the May “Cross Check” operation had prior criminal convictions. Even the fugitives who were arrested, the release said, were fugitives who had already been convicted of a criminal offense.

“In May, ICE officers from all 24 ICE Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) field offices throughout the nation located and arrested more than 2,400 aliens with prior criminal convictions in all 50 states,” said the press release. “All of the criminal aliens taken into custody had prior convictions for crimes such as armed robbery, drug trafficking, child abuse, sexual crimes against minors, aggravated assault, theft, forgery and DUI. In total, 22% of the individuals ICE officers took into custody were immigration fugitives-convicted criminal aliens with outstanding orders of deportation who had failed to leave the country.”

The press release described the May “Cross Check” operation as “part of the Obama administration's ongoing commitment to prioritizing the removal of criminal aliens that threaten public and national security.”

mexico border

U.S.-Mexico border. (AP Photo.)

In September, ICE put out another press release about a subsequent Cross Check operation. This press release also said that “all” of those arrested in this operation were aliens with prior convictions.

“All of the 2,901 individuals taken into custody had prior criminal convictions including at least 1,282 aliens who had multiple criminal convictions,” said the Sept. 28 press release.

CNSNews.com presented the ICE press office, deputy executive associate director Homan and deputy assistant director Crowther with copies of the emails that Crane had provided to Sen. Sessions’ office.

ICE did not address their authenticity, but denied that ICE officers were told to ignore non-targeted aliens during Cross Check operations or were prohibited from interviewing and running criminal background checks on them.

“Contrary to the specific allegations that officers involved in Operation Crosscheck were instructed not to question the immigration status or criminal history of non-targets encountered throughout the course of the operation, ICE's Law Enforcement Support Center (LESC) received 1,686 calls about non-targets encountered during May 2011 Cross Check,” ICE said in a statement. “Based on those calls and subsequent record checks, ICE officers did arrest 450 non-targets who met the criteria of the operation and advanced the goal of improving public safety.”

Presumably, these 450 non-targets “met the criteria of the operation” because they had prior criminal convictions.

“Furthermore,” ICE did say in its statement, “ICE regularly conducts operations that target a variety of segments of the illegal alien population, in support of our enforcement priorities. For instance, ICE has Fugitive Operations teams that routinely conduct operations focused on immigration fugitives. Across the board, these kind of targeted operations are what helped the agency achieve record-breaking results in FY 2011 in our enforcement priority categories, which include convicted criminal aliens, immigration fugitives, illegal re-entrants and recent border crossers.”

ICE Spokesperson Gillian Christensen reiterated that Operation Cross Check was designed to target illegal aliens who had already been convicted of crimes.

ICE

(AP Photo.)

“Like any other law enforcement agency, ICE conducts targeted operations, which focus on apprehending a group of specific, predetermined targets,” Christensen told CNSNews.com. “Consequently, during operations, officers’ attention should be focused on the targeted individuals because they posed the greatest threat to public safety. During the May 2011 Operation Crosscheck, ICE arrested 2,442 convicted criminal aliens, with prior convictions for crimes such as armed robbery, drug trafficking, child abuse, sexual crimes against minors, aggravated assault, theft, forgery and DUI. At the time, it was the largest and most successful operation of its kind in the agency’s history. Of the 2,442 individuals arrested, 534 were fugitives and 331 were illegal re-entrants.”

Although every single one of the aliens apprehended in the May Operation Crosscheck had a prior criminal conviction, not all of the aliens removed from the country by ICE in fiscal 2011 were aliens who had already been convicted of crimes.

“In FY 2011, the ICE removed 396,906 individuals--the largest number in the agency's history,” Christensen told CNSNews.com. “Nearly 55 percent, or 216,698, of the people removed in FY 2011 were convicted criminal aliens--an 89 percent increase in the removal of criminals from FY 2008, and the largest number of criminal aliens removed in agency history.”

That means about 45 percent of the aliens removed in fiscal 2011 were not convicted criminals.

“Overall, 90 percent of ICE's FY 2011's removals were in line with the agency's stated enforcement priorities,” Christensen further told CNSNews.com.

CNSNews.com asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Nov. 2 at an event in Washington D.C.: “Internal ICE emails and a June ICE press release show that under Operation Cross Check in May officers were ordered to only arrest fugitives with prior convictions rather than all aliens with outstanding warrants. Can you comment on that?”

“I'll get back to you on that one,” DHS Press Secretary Matt Chandler, who accompanied Napolitano, responded quickly.

“We’ll get back to you. That's not accurate,” said Napolitano.

CNSNews.com followed up on Napolitano’s statement with Chandler. ICE Spokeswoman Christensen responded to the inquiry by reiterating verbatim her initial statement citied above, which said all aliens arrested under the May 2011 Operation Cross Check had prior criminal convictions.

On its face, that does not contradict Crane’s testimony that officers were ordered to only arrest aliens with prior criminal convictions.

In a statement responding to a CNSNews.com inquiry about the emails Crane provided to Sen. Sessions, House Judiciary Chairman Smith said: “Unfortunately, these allegations are just part of the Obama administration’s broader pattern to ignore the law until they can change it to allow millions of illegal immigrants to become citizens.

“Under this administration, worksite enforcement has dropped 70 percent, making it easier for illegal immigrants to live and work in the U.S.,” said Smith. “And the Department of Homeland Security recently established a working group with the specific purpose of reviewing or revisiting orders of removal for illegal immigrants. This could open the door to allow millions of illegal immigrants to live and work in the U.S.”

ICE, Smith said, “has the responsibility to enforce all immigration laws.”

“Allegations made that ICE officials have directed agents and officers in the field not to arrest illegal immigrants undermine the agency’s credibility and mission,” Smith said.

“Twenty-three million Americans who are unemployed or can’t find full-time work wonder why this administration continues to put illegal immigrants first,” said Smith. “Citizens and legal immigrants should not be forced to compete with illegal workers for jobs. The Obama administration should put the interests of American workers ahead of illegal immigrants.”