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They'd be happy if ICE cooperated on a much greater scale with locals to find and arrest the criminals coming in with the rest of the illegal aliens from Mexico and other countries.

To be fair, some of that is already happening.

Various cooperative agreements between ICE and state agencies are predicted to grow. In one such arrangement, ICE agents now oversee 12 specially trained Arizona Department of Corrections officers to properly identify foreigners who can be deported after their prison sentences end. The program saves the state millions of dollars by getting criminal foreigners out of state prison earlier. Otherwise, the inmates would spend extra months in their cells as their federal paperwork backed up.

In a November 3 news release, ICE also announced it was joining the state's anti-gang task force (not to be confused with the financial crimes task force and the Joint Terrorism Task Force), mostly for operations near the Arizona-Mexico border.

But major change seems unlikely.

ICE's flaws run too deep.

Old animosities die hard.

Leadership at ICE is too flaky.

In January, President Bush appointed a new nationwide chief for ICE, 36-year-old Julie Myers, a former federal prosecutor whose main qualifications seem to be her connections: She's the niece of Air Force General Richard Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and she also just married John Wood, Homeland Security Director Chertoff's chief of staff.

Three months after taking the post, Myers blew off a press briefing she had scheduled with Governor Napolitano during a visit to Arizona, apparently troubled by the state's seizure of money transmitted by immigrant smugglers.

Despite all the current optimism, it remains to be seen whether new Arizona ICE chief Peña will — or can — participate with the state on the money-seizure cases, rejoin the state's drug task force or improve the morale of his own agents.

"I hate seeing it all go to shit," says former Arizona ICE chief Kyle Barnette of the squabbles between federal and state officials. "It takes years and years to build these relationships."

One of the ICE agents who wished to remain anonymous says he knows Peña very well and that he's a "great guy."

But the agent quickly added, "The problem is, he's going to make all sorts of promises, but everybody's going to hate him because he won't be able to keep them. He can definitely talk the talk. This is going to be the first time in his career when he can't back it up."

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern