Button, Button, Who's Got the Button?

Remember that child's game, "Button, button, who's got the button"? Kids form in a circle, and one child goes around with a button in hand, pretending to drop it into each child's hand in turn, but secretly only puts it into one. Everybody then guesses who has the button. Even the one who has the button guesses somebody else to deflect the truth. Eventually, though, the one who has it must 'fess up if pointed out, and becomes the next to distribute the button.

Well, we seem to have the farcical bureaucratic equivalent of the game going on and, as usual, it involves the ICE-house gang. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), as you know, is the agency within Homeland Security that, under Director John Morton's leadership has become the Keystone Kops of the federal set.

  • First, we get news that there's a game of chicken going on between the President and Congress with regard to the looming sequestration cuts to see who will blink first: the White House and its cabinet officers playing at "the sky is falling" with their version of all the evil that will befall the American public if Congress doesn't give, while our legislators pooh-pooh that notion and imply that all will be just fine; agencies will certainly be wise enough to figure out where to apportion their mandatory share of the cuts in a way that hurts no one.

  • Next, we hear that ICE, anticipating the sequestration, goes ahead and releases hundreds of detained aliens — many of them described as "minor" alien criminals. We are left wondering, first, why they were holding "minor" criminals since, under Morton's watch, ICE agents are obliged daily to walk away from aliens arrested for misdemeanor crimes — even if, in the eyes of us untutored rubes who make up the American public, the crimes don't seem so minor at all. And we also wonder why this is news since — also under Morton's watch, and at his direction — ICE trial attorneys have done massive purges of their caseloads, filing motions with immigration judges all over the country to dump cases, resulting in untold thousands of "minor" alien offenders walking the streets with no likelihood at all of being deported.

  • Then we hear that the President has disassociated himself from that decision, with White House Press Secretary Jay Carney saying that the White House staff had no knowledge of, or involvement in, the decision. This is very hard to believe, given that Cecilia Munoz — presently director of the White House's Domestic Policy Council, and previously White House director of intergovernmental affairs — before joining government was a senior official in the pro-immigrant organization National Council of La Raza, and even now is the White House's point person and chief overseer of the administration's immigration policies. But, let's go with that version for the moment.

  • Then comes an Associated Press article pointing out that Gary Mead, who runs the division of ICE most directly involved in immigration enforcement ("Enforcement Removal Operations"), has promptly retired, clearly implying that Mead is the mid-level executive taking the fall for this un-cleared decision. For anyone at all familiar with Mead and his career, that's also a hard sell. Mead is the ultimate man-in-the-gray-flannel-suit. Taking such a decision upon himself stretches credibility to the breaking point; far more likely that he was told what to do by Morton and his small, closed circle of front office minions.

  • Then Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano goes on network evening news to proclaim in an interview that, like the White House, neither she nor her staff had anything to do with the decision to release all those offenders.

  • Now, we have an article seeping into the media that suggests that Mead's decision to retire, whatever the "optics", had been made quite some time ago, and that the retirement had nothing to do with him improperly and importunately deciding to release all those criminal aliens.

So what are we to think? Who made the decision? Poltergeists? And if Carney and Napolitano are telling the truth that neither the White House nor DHS was involved in the decision, what are they doing to get to the bottom of it all? And why isn't Morton, the boss, being held accountable for this latest lapse, in an agency with so many lapses to be held accountable for?

Button, button, who's got the button?