As reported by The Texas Observer, below is ICE’s full letter to DHS last week.
The Honorable Kirstjen Nielsen
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC. 20528
Dear Secretary Nielsen:
We, the Homeland Security Investigations, Special Agents in Charge write this letter to propose
a more efcient and effective alignment of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) law
enforcement assets. This proposal would better position DHS to support the requirements set
forth in Executive Order 13773, Presidential Executive Order on Enforcing Federal Law with
Respect to Transnational Criminal Organizations and Preventing International Trafficking.
The mission of the department is to secure the United States against nefarious actions perpetrated by terrorists and transnational criminal organizations, while creating an atmosphere of resiliency in response to other hazards. As vital as the DHS missions are, executing these missions can be controversial and confusing, and limited by operational budgets and resources.
As responsible DHS executives, we know we must remain vigilant for opportunities to improve
organizational and process efficiencies to make the most of those limited resources. It is in this
spirit that we communicate the following observations, analysis, and recommendations. We are
communicating directly to you because these recommendations have impacts and opportunities
for which are best understood, and eventually implemented, at the Department level.
In 2003, Congress and the 9/1 1 Commission determined that it was necessary to address
inefciencies in the national security systems of the U.S. Government that might have
contributed to the 9/1 1 terror attacks. The result, in part, was the creation of DHS and
subsequently U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from components of the U.S.
Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
During its early stages, ICE was created as the investigative arm of DHS. The ICE Office of Investigations had oversight of programs that supported lCE’s investigative and enforcement priorities including the Air and Marine Operations Branch, the Federal Protective Service, the Federal Air Marshals and Deportation and Removal Operations (DRO). As better efficiencies were sought and ICE continued to evolve during its initial years, many of these former components of ICE were realigned under other agencies.
For over a decade, ICE has provided an umbrella, under which the immigration enforcement
systems could be redesigned and strengthened by two remaining components, now
independent from each other, Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), formerly DRO and
Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). ERO reorganized civil immigration enforcement priorities, developed detention and removal efficiencies, and improved relationships with
humanitarian groups and associations. HSI developed a platform that would support the full
homeland security enterprise and operations to counter the exploitation of international trade,
travel, and finance by terrorists and international criminals. Thus, as ICE continued to evolve,
while achieving a reengineered immigration enforcement program, two very effective but
disparate sub-agencies emerged.
ERO has become very effective and efficiencies at detaining and removing illegal aliens. HSI, now
the second largest federal investigative agency, has become the US. Govermnent’s
Transnational Investigative agency, plugging the gap between more domestically-focused
federal law enforcement and the international sources and methods of crime that signicantly
impact the US. The two ICE sub-agencies have become so specialized and independent that
mission can no longer be described as a singular synergistic mission; it can only be
described as a combination of the two distinct missions Enforcement/Removal and
Considering E.O. 13773 and the fact that we believe that ICE has reached a point of maturation in its continued evolution, we propose to restructure ICE into the two separate, independent entities of HSI and ERO.
While separating HSI and ERO will have some administrative challenges, the establishment of
two separate and independent agencies, will improve transparency, effciency and effectiveness.
HSI arrests more criminal violators than any other federal investigative agency and is
signicantly resourced at strategic locations inside the U.S., as well as internationally; thus,
positioning itself as a key agency under DHS in the implementation of E0. 13773. example,
HSI focuses on the that import high levels of narcotics, including the extraordinary
amounts of opioids flooding into the utilizes its authorities to combat trade fraud; tracks
and arrests those that seek to exploit children; identifies and seizes the illicit funds of traffickers;
and detects and arrests those who exploit other humans via trafficking and/or smuggling. Given
that true border security starts outside of the U.S., extraordinary global reach, with offices
in 65 locations overseas, positions HSI to push the borders out and enhance the national security
of the US. In addition, with its vast authorities and footprint, HSI is recognized by international
partners as the leaders in combatting transnational crime in the US.
HSI continues to strategically utilize its civil immigration authority and border search authorities to enhance its transnational investigations, while also working with ERO and US. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) respectively. Thus, HSI is primed to be your transnational criminal
investigative agency and aggressively attack as directed by ED. 13773, while also supporting terrorism investigations.
There are numerous reasons the establishment of two separate agencies will improve both
agencies. Both agencies have suffered low approval ratings in recent DHS Federal Viewpoint
surveys. The establishment of two separate agencies will allow employees to develop a strong
agency pride. The current structure does not allow for each agency’s distinctive missions to
develop; rather, it results in each agency lacking the ability to find a direction and seemingly
competing for budget, resources and an identity. Regarding identity, there are both internal and
external aspects. ICE has two organizational missions of equal significance Detention and
Removal and Transnational Investigations. Every other Federal law enforcement agency is
organized with just one primary mission to improve focus and effectiveness. CBP, as one enforcement agency example, focuses only on As for investigative examples, the FBI, ATF, DEA, and, in DHS, all are singular agencies focused on their individual investigative portfolio. No US. Department of Justice law enforcement agency is paired with another disparate entity, the FBI is not paired with the Bureau of Prisons or DEA.
The issues with agency identity are manifested as federal, state and local law enforcement
agencies, as well as communities, try to build working relationships with ICE, but are unable to
?nd a single point of contact. Instead, they have built two points of contact, one with ERO and
one with HSI because functionally the two are recognized externally as separate. ERO partners
more closely with state, local and municipal law enforcement agencies, as well as correctional
facilities across the U.S., specifically on immigration enforcement for detention and remOval
purposes. ERO works closely with CBP when aliens are encountered at the ports of entry or
between the ports of entry.
In the U.S., HSI partners with all federal and state, local and municipal law enforcement agencies, as well as the Intelligence Community pertaining to public safety and national security efforts that fall within broad investigative portfolio; additionally, HSI partners with foreign law enforcement agencies across the globe, where it has established Transnational Criminal Investigative Units in 14 countries. HSI is the second largest federal agency contributor to Joint Terrorism Task Forces across the country and participates on numerous other task forces led by other federal and state agencies. HSI leads numerous task forces in the US. focused on dismantling and disrupting transnational criminal organizations, the Border Enforcement Security Task Forces (BEST), Document Benefit Fraud Task Forces Human Trafficking Task Forces, Public Safety/Gang Task Forces, Financial Crimes Task Forces, and Trade Enforcement Coordination Centers. HSI leads the US. efforts against intellectual property crimes at the Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center and export enforcement of controlled commodities at the Export Enforcement Coordination Center, both located in national capital region.
The differences are not just seen in the type of work, but also the workforce. The workforces that
comprise ERO and HSI are distinct by the nature of their work and by the management policies
associated with that work. As a result, ICE has considerable challenges creating singular policies,
programs, training plans, staffing templates or budget prospectus that meet both H81 and ERO
needs. For instance, ERO law enforcement and support personnel (non-management) are a
bargaining workforce operating on Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime and shift work.
All of is a non-bargaining workforce, and its special agents receive Law Enforcement
Availability Pay and are subject to callouts at any hour. This difference in bargaining status, the
policies that govern union and nonunion-based operations, and the occupational specialization
and training, make it difficult for ERO and HSI staff to supplement each other if needed. In
terms of budget, although Congress, OMB, and DHS apportion initial budgets to ERO and HSI
functions, those budgets transform as immigration priorities change. In this environment, ERO
and HSI cannot build sustainable and long-term structures and processes. ERO cannot continue
to develop detention and removal efficiencies while having to share resources with HSI.
Similarly, fluctuating budget hinders its primary mission of conducting a high volume of
complex, large-scale transnational investigations. For example, the ebbs and flows of ERO
detention priorities have directly impacted HSI operations and infrastructure, including the
reprogramming of H81 funds to ERO (specifically in FY11, in FY13, and in FY16), the hiring and resourcing of H81 personnel, unplanned reductions in operational finds, and an inability to invest in tactical communications, purchase of information/evidence, travel, training, Title funding, and procurement of technical equipment, all of which are crucial to effectively conduct complex transnational criminal investigations.
The disparate functions performed by ERO and HSI often cause confusion among the public, the
press, other law enforcement agencies and lawmakers because the two missions are not well
understood and are erroneously combined. administrative actions have been mistaken for
illegal investigations and warrantless searches. HSl’s investigations have been perceived as
targeting undocumented aliens, instead of the transnational criminal organizations that facilitate
cross border crimes impacting our communities and national security. Furthermore, the
perception of investigative independence is unnecessarily impacted by the political nature
of civil immigration enforcement. Many jurisdictions continue to refuse to work with HSI
because of a perceived linkage to the politics of civil immigration. Other jurisdictions agree to
partner with I-ISI as long as the name is excluded from any public facing information. HSI
is constantly expending resources to explain the organizational differences to state and local
partners, as well as to Congressional staff, and even within our own department DHS.
The development of two new effective agencies is a positive step for the Department, as part of
the progression that ICE has experienced since its inception fifteen years ago. As modern
government organizations succeed through dynamic, not static, missions and organizational
structures, so should ERO and HSI continue to succeed by unlocking each agency’s potential.