Doing the Secure Communities Shuffle

By W.D. Reasoner, September 2, 2011

Credible sources are telling me that ICE has reorganized its Secure Communities program management office (SC PMO), and reassigned many of the personnel who have been a part of the office for quite some time.

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These sources say that the organization is being split in half. The interoperability deployment portion of SC PMO is the piece that most people recognize, which is responsible for linking local law enforcement systems to ICE through the FBI, so that all those arrested by local authorities have their fingerprints checked against DHS databases. That will simply become just another program of the Criminal Alien Division (CAD) within Enforcement and Removal Operations. CAD is the operational entity that is responsible, for instance, for the Institutional Removal Program, and other longstanding criminal alien functions that ICE inherited from its Immigration and Naturalization Service predecessor. The remaining portions of the SC PMO that have to do with systems and technology will be assigned to a Law Enforcement Systems group with no operational responsibilities.

For those who don't know, SC PMO started life as an anomaly, at least in the context of ICE – a cross-cutting, standalone program designed to minimize red tape and eliminate bureaucracy in order to ensure that this vital program moved forward with significant progress in a relatively short period of time to help satisfy operational needs, not to mention congressional mandates. Followers of corporate management practices may recognize this by the phrase "skunkworks." Unfortunately, no plan and no organizational structure is any better than the people who lead and manage and in ICE's case, there appears to have been more skunk than intended, and less work than needed to achieve its own deployment goals – in no small measure because of the agency's propensity for shooting itself in its vitals.

Given the blundering and confusion that have attended this program nearly since its inception, I (and probably many others) might view the reorganization as a good thing, if it weren't for the lurking feeling that it's been done "in the dead of night" as a way of downplaying the importance of the program, and burying it deep inside ICE's bureaucracy, possibly in response to hysterical criticism from open borders groups, or fundamental ambivalence about enforcement in general. For instance, if one were to go on ICE's website and search for the agency's organizational and leadership chart – as I did just before writing this missive – one will see no changes whatever reflected there. Curious.

In the past, ICE Director John Morton has taken great pains to announce significant organizational and personnel changes with plenty of notice, often accompanied by press releases. Why the change in practice with this program's reorganization? Is this most recent Secure Communities shuffle being done with the intention to ensure that the program is deployed more effectively than before, or is this just one more example of sleight-of-hand politics being played with immigration enforcement in the run-up to national elections?