Immigration director talks deportation reforms
The University’s Miller Center of Public Affairs hosted a forum Monday evening featuring John Morton, the director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The forum, titled “What Now? The Next Great Immigration Debate,” focused on immigration reforms that occurred under Morton’s watch and possible future changes. Douglas Blackmon, a contributing editor for The Washington Post and the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II”, hosted the forum. Blackmon is the chair of the Miller Center’s forum program.
Morton is a graduate of the University’s Law School and was confirmed as ICE director in 2009. He had previously worked in the Department of Justice for 15 years, serving in several positions, including as assistant U.S. attorney. ICE was created by a post-9/11 merger between the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the U.S. Customs Service.
“In practice, [ICE does] two things: We enforce the nation’s immigration laws … and we are also the principal investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security,” Morton said. “But given the nature of immigration’s unsettled place in the American conscience, [the enforcement of immigration law] tends to be the part of our mission that dominates the public perception of the agency.”
During Morton’s time as director, illegal immigration rates declined despite a lack of comprehensive national immigration reform. Blackmon discussed some factors contributing to this downward trend.
“Millions of once-undocumented workers are staying in their home countries; the Obama administration has deported record numbers of foreigners; spending on immigration enforcement topped $18 billion last year,” Blackmon said. “Yet the importance of immigration in American politics remains as potent as ever.”
There has been “a continued emphasis by the president on reforming our laws,” Morton said. He said the president’s immigration reform plan has four key goals: border security, interior enforcement, a path to citizenship for longtime residents for whom “removal en masse doesn’t make sense” and making sure “that our legal immigration system reflects the reality of who wants to come here who we want to keep.”
Morton also talked about increasing the selectivity in choosing the approximately 400,000 persons who are deported each year.
“You have one of two answers: It can be the first 400,000 people you run across … or it can be those 400,000 people that make the most sense from a policy perspective,” Morton said. “We need to focus on those people who are most deserving of our enforcement attention, and from my perspective that starts first and foremost with criminal offenders.”