Former ICE chief calls for enforcement shift

Berkeley, Calif. — The former head of the nation’s immigration enforcement agency said the government should no longer prioritize deporting those who illegally reenter the country after being expelled and who do not have criminal records.

John Sandweg, former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the government should also shift its focus away from deporting those who have failed to show up at immigration court hearings and who have not been convicted of serious crimes.

Sandweg, who resigned in February, said federal immigration authorities should instead focus on expelling recent border crossers and those who pose threats to public safety. ICE is already heading in that direction, he said.

“I don’t actually anticipate necessarily a significant drop in total removal numbers and deportations as a result of this change,” Sandweg told reporters at an immigration-related seminar at the University of California at Berkeley.

“But I think you are going to find an improvement to agency morale. And I think you will find less of the difficult cases where you come across someone who nobody thinks poses a threat to public safety but is prioritized because of their immigration history.”

Now a government affairs consultant, Sandweg shared his views at The New York Times Institute on Immigration Reporting as the Obama administration is reviewing whether the nation’s deportation policies can be carried out more humanely.

Immigrant rights activists say the government is deporting people who don’t have criminal records but do have families and deep roots here. Republicans in Congress say the Obama administration has watered down immigration enforcement in the interior of the country, thereby inviting more illegal immigration.

Sandweg outlined his ideas in an opinion piece published in the Los Angeles Times in March.

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