Fellow Security Debrief blogger David Olive wrote recently about the conflicting messages and mandates that flow from the 86 conflicting and contending homeland security committees in Congress. The latest example of this Hamlet-like system of self-contradiction comes from the House Appropriations Committee, which complains that US Immigration and Enforcement spends too much time on … well, immigration enforcement.

Specifically, David Price of North Carolina, the chairman of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, complained in a speech yesterday that ICE has been deporting too many illegal immigrants arrested during worksite enforcement raids.

In a related story, Chris Strohm of Congress Daily notes that critics of ICE complain that worksite enforcement operations “ensnarl migrant workers who are not threatening and cause major disruptions to families.” This can be a frustrating critique for the agents at ICE, who were previously criticized for not doing enough worksite enforcement and instead prioritizing national security operations. The argument at that time was that if ICE did not crack down on  jobs – the magnet that attracts illegal aliens- then we would never get our borders under control.

ICE’s strategy, considering its very limited resources allocated to finding and apprehending the some 10 million illegal immigrants already in the country, was to focus on those worksites known to hire undocumented workers and also on sensitive security environments, such as airports and critical infrastructure.

After taking a consistent beating on Capitol Hill for limiting its worksite enforcement operations to national security sites, however, ICE began to increase its operations among non-sensitive sites – an action for which they were promptly criticized.

For example, after a major national operation that resulted in the arrests of more than 300 illegal workers at Wal-Mart stores, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called ICE agents terrorists.

And now Chairman Price implies – well, flat out says – that ICE is wasting time and money by cracking down on worksites that hire illegal immigrants: “In other words, while we have been using scarce resources to detain and deport laborers at meatpacking plants, we have allowed tens of thousands of dangerous criminal aliens to be released back into our communities after serving their sentences, with no awareness on our part of their immigration status,” he said.

And, worse, he has tied ICE’s hands on how it can go about its duties. (One can never tire of pointing out that these duties were mandated by the very Congress which is now criticizing ICE for carrying them.). Price confirmed that his committee is requiring ICE to spend at least $800 million on identifying and deporting illegal immigrants in local jails.

First, to hear Price talk, you’d think identifying and deporting illegal immigrants at jails was a novel idea. It has always been, and remains, a significant part of ICE’s overall strategic plan. In 2006, ICE identified 57,000 criminal aliens in prisons and jails. That number more than doubled in 2007 to 164,000, and it is expected to increase to more than 200,000 this year.

So I’m not criticizing Price for his support of this tactic; it’s a solid tactic that has been used successfully by ICE for years. And, yes, dedicating more resources to deport convicted aliens would be a good thing.

However, in earmarking (a favorite activity of members of Congress) some $800 million to be used on this tactic – and then not providing the appropriations to do so (another favorite activity) – is typical of a Congress that puts political posturing ahead of serious solutions.  It is reminiscent of Congressional  budgets that threw money at the highly visible Border Patrol – the armed officers who apprehend aliens at the border – but then provided no additional funding for the less sexy Office of Detention and Removal in ICE which is responsible for housing and deporting this influx of apprehended aliens. And who do you think criticized ICE for its “catch and release” habits when there was no room to house the aliens and no money from Congress to increase bed spaces?

ICE doesn’t need its hands tied by micromanaging politicians who are playing to the media rather than trying to get the job done. Yes, deporting aliens from local jails is important. But depending upon the unpredictable and utterly inconsistent mood of Congress, it is only more or less important at any given time than a multitude of other tactics that form the overall strategy for securing the borders.

Kudos to Ranking Member Hal Rogers of Kentucky for standing up to his committee’s desire to play armchair sheriff. Rogers noted that such restrictions on how ICE executes its operations could wreak havoc on other important programs.

Known as 287g, legislation already exists that would allow local law enforcement to conduct minor immigration enforcement actions, such as apprehending individuals discovered to be in the country illegally during routine activities like traffic violation stops. That, however, would require some legitimate political leadership, given that recruiting local law enforcement is opposed by most local governments that are already burdened with heavy caseloads of their own. And yet, without such a solution, the only alternative would be to increase funding for ICE interior operations to a level that is unlikely – one that would give ICE sufficient resources to go after the 10 million or so illegal immigrants in the country.

Don’t hold your breath, though. It’s far easier to pass unfunded mandates. Then you can pound your gavel and complain that the immigration mess is everybody else’s fault.

Chris Battle founded Security Debrief as a forum for the homeland security community to discuss pressing issues and current debates in national security, counter-terrorism and law enforcement. After a long fight against kidney cancer, Chris passed in August 2013. Read More