Portman Presses Secretary Mayorkas on Proposal to Reduce ICE Deportation Workforce as Unlawful Migration Continues to Hit Record Levels

WASHINGTON, DC — U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas expressing concern over the DHS proposal to convert Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) officers from their current status as deportation officers to criminal investigators.  At a time when the United States continues to experience record levels of unlawful migration and apprehensions at the border, Portman makes it clear that the administration should not be incentivizing more unlawful migration by reducing the ICE/ERO workforce handling deportations. Furthermore, Portman points out that any proposal to alter ICE ERO functions must be done in coordination with Congress; the administration has yet to discuss this proposal with the Committee. 

“As you know, there are over 8,500 ICE ERO professionals are responsible for enforcing our country’s immigration laws and keeping our communities safe from those who are unlawfully present… I understand the Department may be considering converting ICE ERO officers from their GS-1801 series to the GS-1811 (criminal investigator) series. As ICE ERO officers are primarily responsible for enforcing civil immigration violations, this conversion could further diminish enforcement operations and the capability of the Department to enforce our immigration laws… Any proposal to alter ICE ERO functions should be done in coordination with Congress for full and open consideration of the implications… I stand ready to work with you to secure our border and restore the rule of law when it comes to immigration and border security,” Senator Portman wrote. 

The full letter can be read here or below: 

Dear Secretary Mayorkas: 

I am writing to express my concern with reported U.S. Immigration and Enforcement (ICE) Fiscal Year 2021 enforcement statistics and potential plans to restructure ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) personnel.  As you know, there are over 8,500 ICE ERO professionals are responsible for enforcing our country’s immigration laws and keeping our communities safe from those who are unlawfully present. 

The Washington Post recently reported that immigration arrests in the interior of the U.S. fell in Fiscal Year 2021 to their lowest level in more than a decade and were less than half of the average of administrative arrests from FY 2017 through FY 2019.[1]  This substantial decline in arrests reflects Biden administration policy changes that deemphasize enforcement at a time when the United States is experiencing an unacceptable number of migrants evading apprehension at the southwest border and a growing backlog of individuals with final orders of removal. 

In addition to these concerning enforcement statistics, we understand the Department may be considering converting ICE ERO officers from their GS-1801 series to the GS-1811 (criminal investigator) series.  As ICE ERO officers are primarily responsible for enforcing civil immigration violations, this conversion could further diminish enforcement operations and the capability of the Department to enforce our immigration laws.  These conversions would create significant funding liabilities to DHS for training costs, salary increases, and the creation of additional administrative and positions that will detract from ICE ERO’s core mission. 

As you know, Section 513 of Public Law 116-260, the Consolidated Appropriations Act for FY2021, prohibits reallocation of functions among the officers of the Department or any alteration of organizational units without congressional authorization.  Any proposal to alter ICE ERO functions should be done in coordination with Congress for full and open consideration of the implications, to include the status of employees with bargaining rights and any potential impact on employee pay and benefits.  

I respectfully request a briefing regarding the Department’s analysis of the need to convert ERO officers to criminal investigators.  

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.  I stand ready to work with you to secure our border and restore the rule of law when it comes to immigration and border security. 

Sincerely, 

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[1] Miroff, Nick, Immigration arrests fell to lowest level in more than a decade during fiscal 2021, ICE data shows, Washington Post, October 25, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/ice-arrests-biden-trump/2021/10/25/f33130b8-35b5-11ec-9a5d-93a89c74e76d_story.html.