Immigration Issues

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Michael Garcia, Assistant Secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and second-in-command of the agency, will talk about the latest immigration issues, including a bill working its way through Congress that would give half-a-million farm workers here illegally legal status.

>> José Cárdenas:
Good evening, I'm Jose Cardenas. Welcome to "Horizonte." It's been more than a year since the INS became "ICE." Tonight, we talk to the head of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement about the agency's mission and about immigration issues.

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>> José Cárdenas:
He's prosecuted terrorists in the World Trade Center Bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Now, Michael J. Garcia, a New York native, is the Assistant Secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, appointed by President Bush. Joining me tonight to talk about "ICE" and immigration issues is Michael Garcia. Mr. Secretary, welcome to "Horizonte."

>>Michael Garcia:
Thank you.

>> José Cárdenas:
What brings you to Arizona?

>>Michael Garcia:
A couple of things. I came to Tucson on Monday to visit with office, talk to some of the employees down there. Came up to Phoenix on Tuesday to check in on our operation "ice storm" our alien operation in the city and to visit with our conference of chief counsels, our lawyers, from across the country who are here in Phoenix to talk about legal issues we're facing and to launch our human rights violators training course. We're look training lawyers to look at human rights violators, put them in removal proceedings and to deny them safe haven in the United States.

>> José Cárdenas:
I want to talk about that a little bit but before we do that, let's talk about your background. we know you are a native of New York. Tell us a little bit more about yourself.

>>Michael Garcia:
Sure, grew up in New York. Went to school in New York. Law school as well. Wound up at a big law firm in New York City, but --

>> José Cárdenas:
Wall Street law firm?

>>Michael Garcia:
Yeah.

>> José Cárdenas:
What took you from Wall Street to the U.S. Attorney's office?

>>Michael Garcia:
Well, I was interested in public service. The U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan had a tremendous reputation for doing cutting edge criminal prosecutions. I wanted to be part of that. I actually clerked a short time for a Court of Appeals judge there and then went over to the U.S. Attorney's office and, as you mentioned, got to participate in some really front line terrorism prosecutions.

>> José Cárdenas:
Let's talk about some of those cases.

>>Michael Garcia:
Began back in '93. It's 11 years ago now with the first attack on the World Trade Center in February of 1993. I was a very junior prosecutor in that office. And that was really the first time that we were dealing with foreign terrorism on U.S. soil. In fact, there was six people killed in that attack. At the time, it was the most devastating terrorist attack on U.S. soil. We really had a pioneer, a new way for law enforcement, for prosecutors to approach taking people into custody, charging them with violations, and prosecuting them in criminal court for acts of terrorism in the United States. So really, I think, the first case where we had to deal with those issues in the U.S. courtroom.

>> José Cárdenas:
And then you also were involved in the cases involving the bombing of our embassiess in Tanzania and Kenya. Tell us about that.

>>Michael Garcia:
It was a progression, if you look back on those cases. I prosecuted the trade center and Ramsey Josef, and we went outside of the borders of the U.S. and brought terrorists back to prosecute them here, and with the bombings in east Africa, in Nairobi and Tanzania, we saw that jurisdiction extended even further, 200 people killed over in Africa. We brought that organization back, and it was linked with Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda and we've prosecuted those co-conspirators here in a U.S. courtroom in New York, bringing that evidence in from East Africa to make those charges. So kind of an extension of progression of cases showing what U.S. jurisdiction could do in prosecutions of terrorists.

>> José Cárdenas:
It sounds like a facinating career as a prosecutor. What made you leave that?

>>Michael Garcia:
Well, I think it really was time for me to take up a new challenge. I was a line prosecutor. I was working cases, trials, and I thought it was time to go into a role where I was more involved in the organization of law enforcement, in programs and policy of enforcement. And I had the opportunity to do that, first at the Commerce Department as an assistant secretary running expert enforcement, dual use items, possibly could be used for WMD programs, et cetera, going overseas, and then as part of Homeland Security where I have a significant law enforcement agency.

>> José Cárdenas:
"WMD" being weapons of mass destruction?

>>Michael Garcia:
Yeah.

>> José Cárdenas:
And how was it that you came to be the assistant secretary in charge of "ICE."

>>Michael Garcia:
The administration president asked me to come over and be the last commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, INS, for three months to break it apart and send the pieces of what was INS into Homeland Security.

>> José Cárdenas:
You were implementing the conversion?

>>Michael Garcia:
Exactly. As part of that reorganization, we created an investigative enforcement agency within Homeland Security, "ICE" which I was then appointed to head up. But you mentioned INS becoming "ICE" really not so much that as a transition, INS become three big units. One, services, dedicated to servicing the community, green cards, citizenship, those types of benefits. One inspections border patrol, combined with customs inspectors now, to focus on the actual physical security at the border. And "ICE" which is an investigative agency, some say an interior enforcement agency, that has the special agents, the investigators, that used to be in INS and customs, now has the air marshals, federal protective services, the air marine interdiction corps from Customs, so really a mix of entities from very different agencies, forming one very powerful and diverse law enforcement group within Homeland Security. So a completely new agency.

>> José Cárdenas:
What are your duties as head of "ICE"?

>>Michael Garcia:
I am the head of "ICE." I run the agency, and that means running different divisions, one to make sure, Jose, that we continue in our traditional missions, that the fans fly, that the federal protective services protects our buildings. Then to look at how do we make this work better because we're now one agency. Where do we see opportunities to address old problems in new ways and bring our new tools to the fight, alien smuggling is a good example of that, which think we will talk about in a little while, and how do we face new Homeland Security challenges. How do we look at border security, air security, in new ways, bringing these tools, working together in new, more efficient effective ways to protect Homeland Security.

>> José Cárdenas:
If you had to summarize in a sentence or two the mission of "ICE," what would you say?

>>Michael Garcia:
I take it from the Homeland Security statute and that would be to prevent the next terrorist attack in the United States. That's our mission in the department and the agency.

>> José Cárdenas:
What have you done to fulfill that mission?

>>Michael Garcia:
We focus on a number of different areas. Obviously border security, and sometimes I hear, well, enforcing the immigration law, enforcing customs law, what does that have to do with Homeland Security? What does that have to do -- you were a terrorism prosecutor, what does that have to do with anti-terrorism? Well, if you look at the border and border vulnerabilities that really is a homeland security issue. If we have these gangs, organized criminal gangs moving drugs, taking advantage of that vulnerability, moving people, people who are just looking for economic opportunity, but moving them for profit, moving them and exploiting that border vulnerability, well, for the right price, those organizations could move the weapons of mass destruction, could move terrorists. We have to close down that vulnerability in our border security.

>> José Cárdenas:
Is there any evidence that that's actually happening, that some of those groups are becoming involved in terrorist activities?

>>Michael Garcia:
My answer to that is I haven't seen it. I haven't seen a case where we have arrested someone, and they have with them or they've been moving across Hezbollah or Hamas group or Al-Qaeda, but I have seen criminal enterprises that for a profit are moving drugs, moving people, moving guns across the border, and that creates the potential for serious harm.

>> José Cárdenas:
You gave us an outline of what "ICE" is now. Are there any other entities that are a part of it or specific duties before we go into -- I want to talk about "ICE storm."

>>Michael Garcia:
It's good to clarify. We are a new agency, and there is some confusion over where did these pieces go when they became Homeland Security. In "ICE" we have a large investigative corps, 6,000 special agents makes us the second largest federal investigative agency.

>> José Cárdenas:
That would be second to the FBI?

>>Michael Garcia:
Second to the FBI. And we investigate customs immigrations violations. We also have an intelligence division, very large intelligence group. We have the air and marine interdiction, the Black Hawk helicopters, the fast boats, that look at air space security, drug running, now a very big Homeland Security issue, and we've been flying over the capitol region with our aircraft for more than a year. We have the federal protective service, they protect physical security for more than 8,000 federal buildings across the United States. And we most recently were given from TSA, now part of "ICE" the federal air marshall service with our incredibly important mission, flying thousands of flights a year to prevent that next terrorist attack aboard a civil aircraft.

>> José Cárdenas:
Now, a lot of talk recently about 9/11 and coordination problems. Given your role, how do you see the coordination issues as they relate to the FBI and other agencies that would be responsible for Homeland Security?

>>Michael Garcia:
Well, we coordinate on a number of levels. We coordinate into our department. We have intelligence sharing. There are groups dedicated to making sure that information is passing from the Homeland Security Department to Justice, to other players in that arena. As an agency, we also have a responsibility to do that on an agency level. So we'll work very closely with the FBI. We have representatives on the Joint Terrorist Taskforces across the United States. In fact, I think we have the highest representation of any other agency besides the Bureau on those taskforces. We have people at headquarters and their financial unit, we have people in my financial unit, accessing our systems. That information flow is so incredibly important when you are talking about lessons learned from 9/11, information sharing. People phrase it as intelligence sharing, but at a basic level, what information do I have, what can I -- what do you need, and what are your needs and how can you get into the systems that I have so you can look at what's there and how it fits in with what you are doing. And we work very hard on that, and, again, we have a specially dedicated intelligence division whose primary mission as to look at how do we collect, how do we gather, primarily law enforcement information, how do we make that available both across "ICE" and interagency, interdepartment.

>> José Cárdenas:
Let's talk about "Operation ICE Storm," which I understand has a particular focus on Arizona. What is ICE Storm?

>>Michael Garcia:
ICE Storm, Jose, illustrates a lot of things that we've been talking about. How do you get those pieces working together in ways that are better than when we were doing it alone before. Look at ICE Storm, ICE Storm is geared to alien smuggling. We came to Phoenix because there was an incredible spike in violence in the Phoenix community, murder rates, violence associated with alien smuggling at unprecedented rates. We brought in agents, investigators, to look at the organized alien smuggling problem. Forty agents who are dedicated to alien smuggling investigations and 10 to financial investigations. That was part of the old Customs service, financial investigations, that INS never had, but we have that tool and we can put it into the alien smuggling arena. We can go after the money. That's an incredibly powerful law enforcement strategy. Instead of just arresting, we can seize property, we can look at bank accounts. And we launched that operation back in September. We also brought in some air marine assets, detention removal assets, which is under "ICE" now, that civil system to detain people and remove them from the country, and we put more assets from detention removal into Phoenix, and in the six or seven months that we've launched that, working very, very closely with the Phoenix Police Department, the various Sheriff's Offices, the state's attorney, the U.S. attorney, we've seen significant decreases in violent crime levels in the Phoenix community, that the Phoenix law enforcement community is attributing to "ICE Storm." I'll give you a couple of examples. Murder rate in the period this year over last year, decline of 30%. Violent assaults, 20%. Most remarkably, I think, hostage-taking situations, a decline of 86% year over year.

>> José Cárdenas:
How do you tie that into the advent of operation "ICE Storm"?

>>Michael Garcia:
We look primarily at the timing. Look at when we brought the resources in compared to prior years when we didn't have them there. Another way you can measure it, and I think this is a good insight into it, INS in the past did operations here aimed at similar problems. They didn't bring the financial, and they didn't bring in air marine, but they had three operations over a course of several years. "ICE Storm" already has more arrests in six months than those three operations had in a year and a half, has more arrests, more seizures of weapons, more prosecutions, than those three operations combined, and it shows you the effectiveness of that new approach. So you can compare it in terms of time frames, when did we launch, what are the comparison time frames within the year, and you compare it in terms of what were our prior operations, what was our success rate compared to what we're doing now. On both fronts you see incredibly good results, concrete results. I think that's important.

>> José Cárdenas:
Would it be fair to say that the focus has been on human smuggling?

>>Michael Garcia:
Human smuggling. Key point, though, as part primarily of our customs authority, we have narcotics smuggling as well across the border, a very important focus for Customs, now ICE. We're seeing organizations that for the right profit will move narcotics, will move people, and we have the same flexible response capability. We can go from looking at an organization and bringing charges for people smuggling, go for drug smuggling, because those organizations, they are motivated by money and profit.

>> José Cárdenas:
You think you've had a comparable impact on drug smuggling?

>>Michael Garcia:
Certainly, because as you tighten the border -- and there has been terrific work done by the border patrol and the inspectors on the border. As you tighten the border, as you make it more difficult to operate, you are shutting off the tap, you are shutting off the flow, you are shutting off what we talked about earlier, that vulnerability in the border.

>> José Cárdenas:
Now, what about other crimes, such as car theft?

>>Michael Garcia:
Again, very good point. We're seeing violent crime and other property crimes, as you mentioned, go down, as we're hitting organizations and we're hitting their ability to operate here in the Phoenix metropolitan area. I don't have a statistic on that one, but across the board -- and we're getting this information from the local police departments -- those numbers are down.

>> José Cárdenas:
You talked about how closely you are working with the Phoenix Police Department. There's at least one area where critics would say you are working too closely. And this arises most recently out of the arrest in the Palomino neighborhood and the deportation of a number of juveniles. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

>>Michael Garcia:
Sure. Obviously, immigration enforcement always raises sensitivities and issues on that front, which we're sensitive to as an agency. And we do community outreach. We've done a significant amount here as part of "ICE Storm" and generally, but this was a very unfortunate situation in that information was put out publicly, got into the papers, that was completely inaccurate.

>> José Cárdenas:
In what way?

>>Michael Garcia:
The stories were that "ICE" was following around local police officers with a van or some type of wagon, and as police made stops and did things, they would just take profiles, I think were some of the allegations, of citizens or residents, and we would take them into this van and then sneak them, deport them over the border into Mexico, in this case, juveniles, and we didn't do parental notifications, we didn't do consular notifications. Those were the allegations. In fact, Jose -- and I heard this, in fact, I read some of the letters to the editor, and it concerned me. And I wanted the facts, and the facts are, we were in a neighborhood, actually, to execute an arrest warrant that we had. We came across a Phoenix police officer who had stopped some people, suspected gang members, and was questioning them. An officer on the street, as we would, pulled up to see if he needed assistance, just as a public safety -- officer safety issue. It turned out these were declared gang members, who were illegally in the country. We work often with local police departments across the country to tackle the gang problem. I think we have a public safety obligation on that front. We took custody of these gang members and some others who had approached the car.

>> José Cárdenas:
You took custody because they were gang members?

>>Michael Garcia:
No, because they were immigration violators, but we do this work and we work with the locals generally in this area because we can remove gang members from the street. In this case, it was really fortuitous that we came across a police officer who was working an unrelated area, but who had come across gang members. They either were declared gang members or told the folks out there they were gang members. We took them into custody. And more importantly, looking at the process, we are very scrupulous in how we adhere to the rules and regulations here. We notified the Mexican consulate. In fact, I got the name of the consulate official who came out and talked to these gang members in custody, and we called all of the parents of these gang members, and they didn't come to the holding facility to visit. Then we worked with the consular office and with the Mexican government. So rather than take these gang members to the border and leave them there, we turned them over to Mexican authorities on the other side of the border with the full participation of the Mexican consulate on this side of the border. So it was all done very much following those procedures, but unfortunately, a story gets out that is, we're going through neighborhoods, we're profiling, we're picking young men up or boys and we're dropping them off on the other side of the border without notifying Mexican authorities and without notifying their parents. That simply wasn't the case here.

>> José Cárdenas:
What is "ICE's" relationship with the Phoenix Police Department as it relates to gang enforcement?

>>Michael Garcia:
A very good one. And it's not Phoenix P.D, we're members of what is called violent gang taskforces. We work with local police officers to say, okay, we know there is a gang member who we suspect of violence and preying on the community, gang problem. We've seen this with the El Salvadorian gangs recently. They may not have enough for RICO charges, but if that person is in the country illegally, we can detain and we can remove that person.

>> José Cárdenas: I
s it just the immigration status that determines your jurisdiction? In other words, if that it it was a gang member who was born in this country, would you have any jurisdiction?

>>Michael Garcia:
No, we would not. Our jurisdiction in that instance is based on our immigration authority. Now, if they were engaged in drug running or drug activity as part of our drug enforcement authority, we would have jurisdiction, but we then look at deporting, and we bring the ability to work with the overseas government to say, okay, we have arrested these people, they are going to be removed to your country, we suspect them of being involved in gang activity, so that in El Salvador or other countries, you are not just removing people without warning. In many cases some members of gangs have criminal records where we notify the overseas countries that they are receiving people with criminal records.

>> José Cárdenas:
As I understand it with respect to the incident in question, there were a series of arrests, but the first group of juveniles who had been detained by the Phoenix police officer, he was not going to arrest them. But then they were detained by "ICE" agents. Do you know anything about that?

>>Michael Garcia:
Except what you say, we have very different jurisdiction. If a police officer has reasonable suspicion in this case, and I don't know the facts that let him do the stop, we came after, but we come across people who are being questioned by the police who are gang members, stated gang members, known gang members, and we're certainly going to take action.

>> José Cárdenas:
Even though the local authorities had no plans to do so in

>>Michael Garcia:
Absolutely. That's what we bring to the table. Where local authorities can't act against gang members in some cases, we can act and remove a real public safety threat from the streets.

>> José Cárdenas:
Now, the mayor of Phoenix has reiterated that the City of Phoenix's policy is that the Phoenix Police Department is not an immigration enforcement agency. He has said that he values the benefits that "ICE" has brought but he's sensitive on this issue. I understand on Tuesday you met with the mayor to talk about this. Can you fill us in on those discussions?

>>Michael Garcia:
I met with the mayor. I met with the chief of police. We have a very good relationship with the mayor and with the police force, obviously. We have very different missions. We're not asking and nor is the Phoenix Police Department offering to enforce immigration law, to go out, and their first question when they come across a crime scene or when they report a crime, we don't want them to ask first out of the box, what's your immigration status. We have a role in enforcing many laws, including immigration laws. The Phoenix Police Department has a responsibility here, peace keepers, public safety officers, police officers, to enforce the local laws. That's their role. That's when they do. We respect that and they respect what we do. Now, there are times we can work together very effectively, alien smuggling. You have seen here the terrible effects of that organized smuggling on your community. We can help there. Gang activity. We were in Charlotte, North Carolina. We have been in Chicago. We have been in California. We can work with locals to address terrible cases of violence by bringing our authority to bear and helping them in public safety roles to keep their community safe. That's a good partnership. Unfortunately, sometimes you see that as well, we're asking local police department to become immigration officers. We're not doing that.

>> José Cárdenas:
There is some federal legislation pending that would do precisely that; is that not correct?

>>Michael Garcia:
Pending -- I know there is legislation somewhere. I've heard about it on the Hill, various titles and also within a spectrum of how closely do you work, what's the obligation. We're studying that. We're looking at it. There are obvious legal issues involved in that. So we'll have to look at that a step at a time. As I understand it, it hasn't gone that far on the Hill. But, there is a good partnership there, and there is a service that we can provide to state and local authorities. I just want to mention one other asspect of that, well, two maybe.

>> José Cárdenas:
Before you do that, I want to make sure we wrap up here, your meeting with the mayor. Did you talk about the Palomino neighborhood incident with the mayor?

>>Michael Garcia:
We talked about it, and I expressed frustration and regret that misinformation had gone out. He said the same thing. We reiterated our good working relationship that we described, how we work together productively to protect the community and pledged to do that going forward and to coordinate. Nobody wants to see that type of misinformation get out. We are very concerned about following the laws and the regulations, about respecting the jurisdiction of the Phoenix Police Department, and about accomplishing our mission and working with the community as well as "ice." Very positive meeting and a very good relationship there.

>> José Cárdenas:
With respect to coordination, what was the discussion?

>>Michael Garcia:
Coordination primarily discussion on "ICE Storm" and the alien smuggling front, how we're working together to get at that problem, the successes, the numbers, we've talked about here, the progress we're seeing being made. You have a new police chief here in Phoenix, and I had worked with Chief Hurtt in the past. It was a good opportunity to meet your new chief.

>> José Cárdenas:
The Phoenix police or I think police in general have expressed some concern that the presence of "ICE" agents might inhibit their relationship efforts with the community. If the Phoenix police say we don't want ICE agents in any particular area for a certain period of time, would that be a request that you would honor?

>>Michael Garcia:
That's a difficult question. You know, look, we have our jurisdiction and our authority. We try in every instance to coordinate, to work with the local police departments. There might be a public safety issue where we felt we had to go in. It's a situation where given the relationship particularly here, I don't think it would arise. Certainly we would be receptive to their input, their partnership on, well, this might not be a particularly good time to do the operation you need because of these factors. We're seeing this type of activity or sensitivity here. We would certainly factor that in to decisions we made, but -- and that's a partnership. I can't see a situation where they would come and say, don't exercise a warrant that you think you need to do because we don't want you in our neighborhoods. That's more of the hype, the -- what I really consider this manufactured conflict between state and local and ICE or immigration enforcement. We haven't seen that. What we've seen is sensitivity on both sides to our primary missions.

>> José Cárdenas:
Mr. Secretary, we have about 30 seconds left. Any final thoughts regarding your visit to Arizona?

>>Michael Garcia:
Well, a couple of things, one, I think it's a success story out here in Phoenix. I think the numbers tell the story. We're getting results. It's part of being a new agency, and it's part of a great partnership with our state and local colleagues. And I look forward to visiting again.

>> José Cárdenas:
And we look forward to having you back in Arizona. Thank you for joining us on "Horizonte."

>>Michael Garcia:
Thank you.

>> José Cárdenas:
Thank you for watching "Horizonte" tonight. Join us next week as we give you a tour of a new exhibit of photography featuring Hispanic artists. I'm Jose Cardenas. Have a good evening.

Michael J. Garcia: Assistant Secretary, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcemen;

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