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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

PERSPECTIVE: ICE Needs a Senate-Confirmed Director ASAP

Despite broad consensus across the political spectrum that our immigration system is broken and dysfunctional, immigration policy is perhaps the most polarizing issue in American politics today. Immigration rhetoric has become so heated that the very existence of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has become an open topic of mainstream political dialogue. But as long as our nation has immigration laws, we will need an agency to enforce them. We will need ICE. And regardless of one’s views on immigration policy, all Americans interested in our government operating effectively should support ICE having a Senate-confirmed director.

Although immigration enforcement had been a controversial and highly partisan topic for decades, existential hostility to ICE has only recently entered the political mainstream. Over the past year, calls to “abolish ICE” have become a convenient rhetorical shortcut for those wishing to express opposition to the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement policies. However, advocating the wholesale elimination of our immigration laws remains a fringe political view. Nonetheless, those who attack ICE as method of opposing the Trump administration fail to recognize the incoherence of wishing to retain an enforceable set of immigration laws, while simultaneously advocating the abolishment of an agency critical to enforcing those laws.

Sadly, ICE-bashers do not seem particularly interested in advocating reasoned policy arguments. Indeed, supporters of abolishing ICE fail to articulate – and likely do not understand – what would happen in the agency’s absence. ICE personnel help enforce more than 400 laws and focus not just on enforcement of the immigration laws enacted by Congress, but on preventing crimes such as identify theft, human and narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and intellectual property violations. No American – even those committed to the most liberal immigration policies – should want these law enforcement activities to cease.

Similarly, every American interested in our government functioning effectively – even those bitterly opposed to the Trump administration’s immigration policies – should support ICE having a Senate-confirmed director. The Constitution provides that the president “shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint” senior government officials like the director of ICE. This process is an important part of the system of checks-and-balances that the Framers of our Constitution created. And for this system to function effectively, the president’s nominees should be allowed to receive an “up or down” vote on the Senate floor.

Even the most strident critics of ICE have an interest in the agency having a Senate-confirmed director. An ICE director who has been confirmed by the Senate can better be held accountable for the agency’s policies and performance. By contrast, it is more difficult for Congress to conduct effective oversight of ICE or any agency with an acting leader who is uncertain about his or her longer-term status and tenure.

Unfortunately, after almost four months, the president’s nomination of Ronald Vitiello to lead ICE has not yet even reached the Senate floor for an up-or-down vote. The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC), which has jurisdiction over the confirmation of the ICE director, has had more than sufficient time to review the nomination of Mr. Vitiello – a law enforcement professional with 30-plus years of distinguished service across multiple Democratic and Republican administrations. The thousands of hard-working ICE law enforcement personnel – civil servants who loyally and professionally implement the policies of whomever the American people elect as president – deserve a permanent Senate-confirmed director. So do all Americans who want our government to operate effectively. For all of these reasons, the HSGAC should send Ronald Vitiello’s nomination to lead ICE to the Senate floor for a vote as soon as possible.

(Robert C. Bonner has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate four times: as the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, administrator of the DEA, U.S. District judge, and U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California.)

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email HSTodayMag@gtscoalition.com. Our editorial guidelines can be found here.

Robert Bonner
Robert Bonner is the former Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and federal judge and prosecutor. He was appointed Commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service in September 2001, and served as the first Commissioner of the newly created CBP from March 2003 until December 2005. Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, he led efforts to modernize supply chain security, pioneered the use of automated risk assessment as a counter-terrorism tool, and established the National Targeting Center (NTC), the Container Security Initiative (CSI), and Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT); initiatives which revolutionized trade security and the efficient movement of goods around the world. Prior to his time as Commissioner of CBP, Mr. Bonner served as Administrator of the DEA from 1990 to 1993, a U.S. District Judge for the Central District of California from 1989 to 1990, and the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California from 1984 to 1989. He has also practiced law as a partner at the international law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, and served on active duty in the U.S. Navy from 1967-1971 as a Judge Advocate General. Mr. Bonner received his JD from Georgetown University Law School, and is a member of the California and DC bars.

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