New ICE Public Advocate an Important and Welcome Resource

February 17, 2012

By Heather Stewart

It’s startling—and a little scary—how little some members of Congress seem to know about the laws they write. The hysterical reaction of some to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Napolitano’s appointment of a public advocate in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is a case in point. You would think from all the talk that this person was intended to be nothing but an advocate for illegal immigrants (“amnesty czar,” to cite one particularly inflammatory label).

The public advocate may well be a point of contact for that segment of the public that is affected by the administration’s enforcement policies regarding deportations—which would include some undocumented immigrants, their families, and others—which is just as it should be. The advocate’s job is to assist in the implementation of ICE’s mandate by being a point of access for input by the affected public. That is a good thing; it helps government to be smarter.

But Congress wrote the Homeland Security Act that established DHS. How can they not know what their own law says? How can they not know that the mandate they gave ICE affects far more than undocumented immigrants?

Every higher education institution in the country that is authorized to admit foreign students acquires that authorization from ICE. Under the law that Congress wrote, ICE has to certify them, and recertify them periodically. Certification is an expensive and complex procedure, and our best universities can be in serious trouble if the process doesn’t work properly. If you wonder why a police agency—ICE—was given this responsibility, you’re not alone. But that’s how Congress wrote the law. Nearly every college and university has a stake in this process. They will appreciate having a person in ICE to whom they can express their concerns. These are American institutions and American citizens. What nefarious purpose could possibly be served by giving them an advocate in ICE?

More than a million foreign students, exchange visitors, and their dependents who are in our country legally—and are encouraged to be here by United States policy—are monitored by a system (SEVIS) housed in ICE, which colleges and universities have to administer. This is also complex and expensive. Schools and exchange visitor programs are legally responsible for the accuracy of the information that they provide to DHS on their foreign students and exchange visitors, and a foreign national who falls out of legal status because the system doesn’t work right can be jailed and deported. All of these affected parties have a big stake in SEVIS. It is necessary and entirely appropriate for them to have a point of access in DHS.

NAFSA appreciates and strongly supports the appointment of an ICE public advocate. It is an important step toward providing the responsive and accountable government that the loudest complainers in Congress constantly say they want.


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