Immigration and Customs Enforcement union leaders said Thursday that a policy laid out by the agency is a “law enforcement nightmare” developed by the Obama administration to “win votes at the expense of sound and responsible law enforcement policy.”

The union, AFGE National Council 118-ICE, that issued the release “represents approximately 7,600 bargaining unit employees in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement throughout the continental United States, Puerto Rico, Alaska, Hawaii, Virgin Islands, and Guam, with over 2,300 members.” The union is a member of the American Federation of Government Employees, a national affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

The union press release (.pdf) states:

On June 11, 2010, ICE Union leaders around the nation issued a unanimous no confidence vote in ICE Director John Morton on behalf of ICE officers, agents and employees nationwide citing gross mismanagement within the Agency as well as efforts within ICE to create backdoor amnesty through agency policy. ICE Union leaders say that since the no confidence vote was released problems within the Agency have increased, citing the Director’s latest Discretionary Memo as just one example.

“Any American concerned about immigration needs to brace themselves for what’s coming,” said Chris Crane, President of the National ICE Council which represents approximately 7,000 ICE agents, officers and employees,” this is just one of many new ICE policies in queue aimed at stopping the enforcement of U.S. immigration laws in the United States. Unable to pass its immigration agenda through legislation, the Administration is now implementing it through agency policy.”

The discretionary memo mentioned in the union release was issued last week by ICE director John Morton; it is one among several issued over the past 30 years by federal immigration authorities on how to exercise prosecutorial discretion in dealing with immigration matters.

The latest memo explains that “the term ‘prosecutorial discretion’ applies to a broad range of discretionary enforcement decisions” that can include deferred action, but also the execution of a deportation order. It offers guidelines on how to use discretion on a case-by-case basis and states that “decisions should be based on the totality of the circumstances, with the goal of conforming to ICE’s enforcement priorities.”

The union release adds:

With regard to the entire idea of prosecutorial discretion, Agents say they will have none. “Tell any ICE agent he or she will have the final say on making an arrest or holding someone in custody and they’ll tell you you’re crazy, officers will be ordered not to make arrests and failure to comply will result in the end of the agent or officer’s career, that’s business as usual at ICE. It’s unfortunate but the Administration protects foreign nationals illegally in the U.S. but does nothing for our employees.”

Subhash Kateel, from the Florida Immigrant Coalition, writes to the Independent in an email that “the ‘changes’ in ICE policy are basically restating that ICE has the same powers it had over a decade to NOT deport people that are NOT a threat to anyone.”

Kateel adds that the Morton memo does not say anything different from a memo issued in 2000 by Doris Meissner, then the director of the now-extinct Immigration and Naturalization Service, the first memo articulating prosecutorial discretion.

“If the ICE union is calling this ‘backdoor amnesty,’ then ‘backdoor amnesty has existed since 2000,” Kateel writes. “The fact that over 2 million people have been deported since then means that there was no ‘backdoor amnesty’ then and there is none now.”

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