Critics call for immigration, customs merger

Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Several critics are pointing to antiquated computer systems, bad management practices, lack of money and poor information sharing within the Homeland Security Department’s immigration enforcement unit as good reasons to merge it with Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

Observers say merging Immigration (ICE) and Customs Enforcement with CBP would improve operations, efficiency and homeland security.

“Anecdotal evidence suggests that the division of customs and immigration inspectors from their related investigative colleagues may be building administrative walls and hampering cooperation and information sharing between ICE and CBP in critical mission areas,” said Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) during a congressional hearing on the matter last week.

House and Senate lawmakers are weighing the issue. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) even asked the department’s inspector general to provide a report on the matter.

In House testimony last week, a retired ICE agent said the bureau has systemic problems, including fighting with management for better computer systems.

“We were not requesting anything more than to bring us back to a level of technology that had successfully supported our mission in the past,” said Kenneth Klug, who was in charge of ICE’s New York field office. “It became apparent at this point in time that the organization was unable or unwilling to entertain suggestions to improve antiquated technology and flawed policies.”

James Carafano, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, testified that creating a single agency could offer advantages in integrating and consolidating information technology programs as well as better training, management and personnel retention.

T. Jeff Vining, vice president in Gartner Research’s homeland security practice, said the agency has had severe budget shortfalls hampering its mission. He even heard stories about how ICE didn’t have copy paper because of several financial problems. In fact, department officials want to redirect $300 million this year to keep the bureau functioning.

“Because they drastically underfunded ICE in previous budgets they underestimated the expense of their mission,” Vining said. “And they’re trying to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

ICE spokesman Russ Knocke acknowledged that difficult financial challenges remain, but added that the bureau has done a remarkable job in the past two years. Knocke said he could not comment on the congressional hearing, but said his agency has been very successful.

“Take a look at any division, any program and you’ll see that the numbers are all up and in some cases, we’re breaking records,” he said.

Knocke pointed to the removal of illegal aliens, the arrest and removal of criminal aliens, increased investigations of money laundering and other financial investigations, and arrests of sexual predators among other statistics.

“Certainly we hope some of these financial challenges we’re dealing with for the last couple of years are nearing the end but we’re not there yet,” he added.

Several critics acknowledged that merging the agencies now might cause even more problems.

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