Federal Homeland Security Investigations agents say they have been kicked out of joint drug operations, shunned by local police departments and heckled at campus career fairs. Their parent agency, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, carries a stigma that is undermining their investigative work, the Washington Post reports. The agents say they face a backlash in liberal “sanctuary” jurisdictions where authorities strictly limit contact with ICE but also in some Republican-led states where politicians are vocal in their support for the agency. The investigations agents assembled dozens of examples to convince DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas that they should leave ICE. They say affiliation with ICE’s immigration enforcement role is endangering their personal safety, stifling their partnerships with other agencies and scaring away crime victims. HSI agents floated the idea of a separation in 2018 under President Trump, who mostly touted ICE’s deportation division and the affiliated labor union that endorsed his political campaign. The idea went nowhere until agents brought it up again this year as Mayorkas toured the nation to hear employees’ ideas.
At Mayorkas’s request, HSI agents considered the possibility of remaining under ICE, with a different Internet and email address to distinguish it from immigration enforcement. Splitting up would require congressional approval, the agency’s own Senate-confirmed director, and administrative costs of dividing staff and budgets.
HSI agents say the backlash against ICE has left them increasingly isolated and unable to work with state and local law enforcement agencies, particularly in jurisdictions where elected officials don’t want police officers helping anyone with the agency’s lettering on their jackets and business cards. While a breakup would require congressional approval and seems unlikely, the report is one of the most detailed accounts of the extent to which the ICE acronym has become a scarlet letter for the agents tasked with targeting terrorists, former Nazis, human traffickers, drug smugglers and purveyors of stolen antiquities. As DHS’s main investigative agency, HSI has more than 10,000 employees assigned to 250-plus offices inside the United States and 50 countries worldwide. The agency has a broader focus on transnational crime, and agents arrest unauthorized immigrants and U.S. citizens alike. ICE’s 6,000 enforcement officers have a much narrower mandate: To arrest noncitizens for civil violations of federal immigration law, such as overstaying a visa.