Frankenstein's agency: Thank you for your very accurate article regarding the disaster known as ICE ("Meltdown," Ray Stern, November 16).
I recently left ICE (I tell friends that I "abandoned a sinking ship"!) as a group supervisor to accept a position at another federal agency. I started with U.S. Customs in 1987 and would still be a productive, satisfied employee had ICE not been created.
A small core group of us with an average of 15-20 years' experience (at Customs) have tried unsuccessfully for the last three years to get some public attention and congressional traction to fix what was not broken before ICE was formed. Customs agents were in shock that a successful agency with a rich history and mission such as the Customs Service would be dismantled and merged with a dysfunctional agency such as the INS at the stroke of a pen. The government effectively transplanted diseased organs into a healthy patient, and now that patient is terminally ill.
The appointments of such unqualified leadership at ICE like Michael Garcia and Julie Myers further compound the problems, and this further validates the Bush administration's lack of concern.
Only failure and public and congressional outrage will be the catalyst to get this addressed. Thanks for your in-depth coverage that shone the light of day on this embarrassment.
Name withheld by request
Not in their backyard: No doubt ICE has its problems, especially in Arizona. I agree the office needs more agents. But the special agents of ICE are not there to "respond" to every state, county, city police department.
They are there to perform investigations of organizations committing immigration fraud, smuggling, and document manufacturing/vending. They are also around to arrest criminal aliens (major felons only, because there are too many right now in the United States and ICE has too many other duties with enforcing both customs and immigration laws).
ICE, simply put, is not a police department, it is an investigative agency. The unfortunate truth is that it takes about three to four hours to process an illegal alien. If I'm an ICE supervisor, I don't want my agents "responding" to police calls to pick up illegals. With the current number of special agents, that would be all they could do.
My estimation of the situation is that the ICE special agents are overwhelmed with police calls. They quickly burn out with merely processing aliens, and with not having the time left to investigate anything of any consequence.
Adding to the problem is the fact that former Customs Service folks don't like being associated with investigating anything related to immigration. Part of that stems from the fact that they don't get adequate training in immigration law, they don't have any experience in this type of investigating, and they don't want to get it.
Simply put, the average importation of narcotics case is much simpler than an alien-smuggling case. Kilos of drugs don't have to be fed, medicated or go to the bathroom under escort. The agent simply field-tests, marks it as evidence and takes it to a lab. The few people arrested from the drug seizure go to a county jail. The jail has no right to refuse a prisoner on federal criminal charges. The jails do have the right to refuse to house an alien arrested on "administrative" charges of deportation. So the arresting agent of an alien often has to literally shop for housing the arrestee. Many jails don't meet the federal criteria for housing federal prisoners, so the agent may well have to drive unexpected distances to lock up an alien.
Neville Cramer, whom you quoted, has not arrested anyone in many, many years. He has been an HQ type for at least the past 15-20 years. He did not quit ICE or INS. He retired on a nice pension. He might try to equate his years of overseas work to being in the "field," but essentially it was for HQ. Most of his career was in and around the D.C. beltway in Washington. He hasn't dealt with what the average ICE agent deals with today in Arizona, and he should know it.
Let's face it, America, we are just flat overrun with illegals. Amnesty isn't the answer. ICE can't totally answer a nationwide problem. We all have to just do our part: Don't hire illegals, don't condone those who do, support the agencies left with the problem.
ICE agents are left with a legacy of both U.S. political parties patronizing alien-rights groups for many decades, at the expense of middle America. The hand-wringing and whining better stop, because it can get worse.
Bob Trent, via the Internet
Rearrange those deck chairs: As a special agent with ICE, formerly of the Customs Service, I applaud your article titled "Meltdown" by Ray Stern. However, I would like to see a follow-up examining why ICE was created and split from the U.S. Border Patrol and why Congress won't merge the two agencies back. Numerous entities have advocated for the merger.
Tony Cicerone, New York