As a retired immigration officer, I was concerned to read that ICE agents are using California courthouses as a place to do random checks for immigration status. This is contrary to everything I was taught as an INS officer. However, I understand how this has come about and it has nothing to do with President Trump.
Until 1970, almost all immigration officers started in the Border Patrol. To get promoted, these agents had to leave the Border Patrol and take an INS job as either an immigration inspector, deportation officer, criminal investigator (like ICE today), or an INS benefits officer (who made decisions on applications for legal status). Because of this requirement, Border Patrol supervisors were well versed in all aspects of immigration law.
In the early 1970s the INS changed its policy and began recruiting outside applicants for INS positions. I was hired as an immigration inspector in 1972. I went to the Border Patrol Academy and graduated from the third class for non-Border Patrol INS officers. All my INS supervisors were former Border Patrol agents, as were all INS managers in Washington, D.C. The INS was controlled by former Border Patrol officers until the mid-1980s, when a retired FBI agent was hired to direct INS enforcement.
In 1987 I attended the annual conference for INS enforcement managers. At that conference, I was publicly criticized for letting the Bakersfield Border Patrol interview illegal aliens in Tehachapi State Prison. My decision could deprive the Investigation program of resources.
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I responded that my Fresno officers were about 150 miles from Tehachapi, while the Bakersfield Border Patrol was less than 50 miles from the prison. I was more concerned with saving money for the INS. I was not concerned about building up the Investigations program within the INS.
I was never invited to another conference and the INS Investigations program began lobbying to be free from the INS. By this time, I had worked in every INS program except the Border Patrol. I had just set up the amnesty program in Central California and I had a much broader view of immigration policy than the INS investigators, who hated the Border Patrol and had contempt for the rest of the INS.
The investigators were one pay grade higher than other INS officers and therefore assumed they were better. They didn’t understand, and didn’t care, that many illegal aliens had constitutional rights, and that many qualified to immigrate, if only someone would tell them how.
Today, ICE is comprised of former INS and Customs special agents, and new employees hired directly into ICE. ICE was created in 2003, when the INS was abolished. Customs agents were one pay grade higher than INS agents, so most of the early ICE supervisory and management positions were given to former Customs officers. Past policies implemented by former INS managers were forgotten.
The random questioning of people in state courts was not allowed under INS leadership. It has gradually come about since the INS was abolished in 2003. Problems with ICE actions are not the fault of President Trump. They are the result of the Investigations program being separated from the Border Patrol and from immigration benefits.
I have the following advice for anyone confronted by an ICE agent in a courthouse, or anywhere other than at the U.S. border. You are not required to respond to questions. They have the burden of proving you are here illegally. However, if you admit to being from another country, that burden shifts. You must now prove you have legal status.
If you are here legally and don’t have your green card, don’t answer any questions. If you are arrested you can sue for false arrest, unless you admitted you were not a U.S. citizen. Once you indicate you were not born here, you must prove legal status. You cannot be forced to answer questions.
Don Riding was INS Officer in Charge in Fresno from 1984 through 2003, and director of USCIS in Fresno until 2011.