Guatemalan children arrive on an ICE deportation flight from Texas in August 2020.
Photo: Getty Images
In the final days of the Trump administration, officials at the Department of Homeland Security reportedly rushed to figure out how to frustrate the Biden administration’s attempts to change immigration policy after years of harsh tactics and harsher rhetoric from the White House. According to a whistle-blower complaint revealed by the New York Times on Monday, that effort included an agreement between DHS official Ken Cuccinelli and the union that represents Immigration and Customs Enforcement — an agreement that would give ICE something like veto power over any policy changes.
The contract signed by the immigration hardliner states that “no modifications whatsoever concerning the policies, hours, functions, alternate work schedules, resources, tools, compensation and the like of or afforded employees or contractors shall be implemented or occur without the prior affirmative consent” of the union. With this blanket authority, ICE appears able to argue any policy changes that affect most anything within its purview. The Times also notes that the contract may allow “the ICE union to argue that it can reject changes such as Mr. Biden’s recent order to focus on violent criminals and not prioritize other undocumented immigrants.”
Though federal law states that agency heads have 30 days to cancel union agreements once they are signed, Cuccinelli’s deal could allow the ICE union to appeal to the Federal Labor Relations Authority. Once that window closes on February 19, any such agreement would be locked into the ICE union contract for the next eight years.
Cuccinelli — who proposed changing the Statue of Liberty inscription to ensure that the “tired” and “poor” welcome in America agree “not [to] become a public charge — has already had success in blocking Biden’s attempts at immigration reform. On January 8, he signed an agreement with Texas to block DHS from altering deportation policy unless the agency gives the state six months’ notice. In a lawsuit citing that agreement, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the administration to block Biden’s 100-day ban on most deportations. A Trump-appointed federal judge then cited the agreement when he ordered to pause Biden’s deportation moratorium.
With the Biden ban in limbo, the Associated Press reports ICE has deported hundreds of immigrants in the first handful of days under Biden, including 15 people to Jamaica on Thursday, 131 people to Honduras on Friday, and 138 people to Guatemala on Friday. As the AP notes, “it’s unclear how many of those people are considered national security or public safety threats or had recently crossed the border illegally,” which is the priority for deportations at DHS.
Perhaps most concerning is the deportation of a west Texas resident named Rosa, who witnessed a white nationalist gunman kill 23 people in a shooting at an El Paso Walmart in 2019. According to her lawyers, she had met with the local district attorney and agreed to serve as a witness in the gunman’s upcoming trial. But on Wednesday, she was pulled by police over for a broken tail light, detained on prior traffic warrants, and transferred in detention to ICE. The agency allegedly deported her before she could contact the non-profit law firm representing her.