INTERVIEW: ICE on the Frontlines, agency explains role in Virginia

By Ryan Nobles - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – There is not a state in the union where immigration and customs enforcement does not have work to do when it comes to monitoring the flow of people and money into the United States. ICE's role has gotten quite a bit of attention over the past few months after a controversial law that was passed in Arizona that gives local law enforcement wide latitude to enforce immigration law. And here to discuss these issues is the top government official at ICE. John Morton is the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It's a real pleasure to have you here. Thank you for being here, Mr. Morton.

John Morton: My pleasure.

Ryan Nobles: Let's first talk about this Arizona law. I know you can't talk about the specifics of the legislation, but practically, it seems as though there's a push across the country for states and localities to take a more active role in enforcing immigration policies. How does that impact your agency?

John Morton: We have a long history of working very closely with state and local law enforcement and that's something we want to continue to do. That's critical to doing our job well. I don't think at the end of the day that individual state immigration enforcement regimes are the right answer. We need a uniform federal law but one that's aggressive and one that works very closely with the states throughout the country.

Ryan Nobles: So is it your opinion that reform is necessary in some capacity at federal level?

John Morton: Absolutely. I'm a big believer in comprehensive immigration reform. The present system doesn't work as well as it should, but my view is that reform should start at the federal level and not through 50 individual state laws.

Ryan Nobles: Because we've seen that already in Virginia. Of course, Prince William County taking a pretty aggressive action with this and the attorney general saying he thinks that Arizona's law makes sense in a lot of respects. How do you handle movement by these localities versus what your role is at the federal level?

John Morton: I think you stay focused on very smart, tough, immigration enforcement at the federal level focused on criminal offenders, focused on recent border entrants, focused on people that gain the system and you get out there and let people know that what we do at ICE is so much more than just simply immigration enforcement against non-criminals. We're out there every day in jails, we're trying to clean up gang problems, child pornographers on the internet, making sure that people understand the federal enforcement role is broad and we've got to focus on public safety.

Ryan Nobles: And it does become a resource issue at that point? There is a pretty big problem and there are major issues with human trafficking and child pornography and things of that nature? Do you almost have to prioritize what the necessity is to go after?

John Morton: Absolutely. We work in a world of limited resources. We focus first and foremost on criminal offenders. We have our secure communities program, we have it here in Virginia and we're in every single jurisdiction in Virginia identifying illegal aliens who might be in our jails who committed crimes, through more fingerprints, trying to remove them first. We focus on people coming across the border but we have to find time - at the same time to go after human traffickers, making sure we're looking at people on the internet trying to reach out and talk to your daughter, or son and trying to lure them into something. We do a lot of intellectual property work, counterfeiting, fake jerseys and T-shirts, arms traffickers, all very, very important work that we've got to focus on every day in addition to our immigration work.

Ryan Nobles: It's become such a hot button political issue, it seems that nobody really knows where they stand on the issue and there's so much rhetoric being tossed around. From your position, how do you deal with all the hot opinions people have with this topic?

John Morton: I've been involved in this business for nearly 20 years in enforcement and you're right, immigration is a very passionate issue, people have strong opinions on it. At the end of the day, I've got to try to get it right, on the merits, staying focused, making sure that we focus on public safety first and foremost, and good people, very good people can have different views on immigration. On the one hand, it's what makes our country great. We're a nation of immigrants but we're also a nation of laws and we can't forget that we're best when we try to balance those two things and make sure at the end of the day we're trying to keep the streets safe and yet be a welcoming country.

See the video at right for the full interview.

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