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19 top ICE investigators ask DHS officials to split up the agency

They don’t want to be linked to Trump’s immigration policies.

Agents with ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations work with police in March to arrest gang members in New York.
John Moore/Getty Images

The growing cries for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to be abolished, reformed, or restructured now includes a group of 19 ICE agents.

The investigators, who work for ICE Homeland Security Investigations, sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen last week, asking her to split their division from the agency’s immigration enforcement arm, which has been the target of public backlash over the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

Their request, which was first reported by the Texas Observer, stems from a widespread misunderstanding about the work that ICE investigators do. Special agents with ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) do not investigate immigration infractions or handle deportations —that falls to ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO).

ICE investigators instead build criminal cases against international drug smuggling operations, sex trafficking rings, and cross-border gangs (like MS-13). That involves a lot of collaboration with local police, and ICE investigators say their association with the controversial immigration enforcement mission is making it hard for them to do their jobs.

Here is how they explained it:

Many jurisdictions continue to refuse to work with HSI because of a perceived linkage to the politics of civil immigration. Other jurisdictions agree to partner with [ICE Homeland Security Investigations] as long as the name is excluded from any public facing information. HSI is constantly expending resources to explain the organizational differences to state and local partners, as well as to Congressional staff, and even within our own department DHS.

The group of special agents suggested splitting up ICE into two separate agencies: one that focuses on detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants, and another that focuses on transnational criminal investigations. They would both remain part of the DHS, but Homeland Security Investigations would no longer be under ICE.

“While separating HSI and ERO will have some administrative challenges, the establishment of two separate and independent agencies, will improve transparency, efficiency and effectiveness,” they wrote in the letter. They also complained that millions of dollars in funding for their investigations is repeatedly reallocated to enforcement and removal operations.

There has long been tension between agents and officers in ICE’s two divisions, but it’s no coincidence that HSI investigators are now asking to split up the agency: The Trump administration’s family separation practices have fueled public anger in recent weeks toward ICE, which is tasked with carrying out the president’s policies.

Perhaps agents with ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations are tired of being blamed for splitting up and deporting immigrant families. Or perhaps they don’t want their entire division to be on the chopping block one day.