Following President Barack Obama’s 10-point executive order on immigration, the Department of Homeland Security will prioritize reform to its personnel structure for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and create three new law enforcement task forces along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Today, we have more agents and technology deployed to secure our southern border than at any time in our history. And over the past six years, illegal border crossings have been cut by more than half,” Obama said Thursday in his immigration address.
In a memo to ICE acting director Thomas Winkowski and DHS Chief Human Capital Officer Catherine Emerson, Secretary Jeh Johnson said the ICE Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations’ targeted approach to deportation — targeting criminals who pose a threat to national security or public safety — has led to “record- breaking numbers of criminal removals.”
“ICE ERO has accomplished this under a personnel structure that lags behind that of other federal law enforcement agencies and components,” Johnson said, citing the need for personnel restructuring. “This discrepancy hurts morale and presents other management challenges.
Under the President’s executive order, Johnson announced a two-pronged strategy for personnel reform. First, the secretary ordered ICE ERO and the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer to complete a new job series classification by December.
“This review will help identify gaps in current job series to support a classification that accurately reflects ICE ERO’s realigned mission to national security and public safety,” Johnson said.
Second, Johnson ordered ICE ERO and the OCHCO to complete a review of premium pay coverage for ICE ERO agents and determine what changes should be made to better compensate them.
The memo sets December as the deadline for the premium pay system review, as well as the deadline for submitting analysis and recommendations to the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget. Johnson said he expects to send the recommended personnel reforms to Congress by February 2015.
Border Security Task Forces
Also on DHS’ agenda is a push to strengthen border security. Johnson in a second memo elaborated on one of the President’s talking points — a “brief spike” in unaccompanied children attempting to cross the U.S. border this summer.
“The President and I are committed to building an even more secure border, and a smart strategy to get there,” Johnson said in the memo.
While the rate of illegal immigration has gone down to 486,651 arrests in FY 2014 — the lowest point since the 1970s, compared to a peak of 1.6 million apprehensions in 2000 — the secretary acknowledged that an improving U.S. economy and worsening violence in counties such as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador could create another seasonal surge in attempted crossings this summer.
Following up on a plan first announced in May 2014, Johnson commissioned three new joint task forces — comprised of agents from the U.S. Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, ICE and Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Joint Task Force West will monitor the southern land border and the West Coast, while Joint Task Force East will watch for illegal border crossings by sea. The third, Task Force Investigations, will focus on supporting investigations on behalf of the two geographically-based task forces.
In his memo, Johnson said he expects the offices to realign personnel within 90 days, followed by a first assessment on implementation.