Law School hosts immigration legal forum

By Aviva Rosman

Julie Myers, the assistant secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), discussed the challenges of immigration regulation and the future of government policy at the U of C Law School Legal Forum’s Immigration Law and Policy Symposium on Friday.

“ICE is a unique law enforcement agency in that it was formed from the lessons of 9/11,” Myers said in the symposium’s keynote address. A division of the Department of Homeland Security, the agency combines the enforcement and intelligence units of U.S. Customs, the Immigrant and Naturalization Services, and the Federal Protective Service.

On any given day, ICE officers will make 279 administrative arrests, 55 criminal arrests, and 18 drug seizures, according to Myers.

She said one of the difficulties the agency faces is gaining credibility with Americans.

“Law agencies need the support of the people to effectively accomplish any mission,” Myers said. “Most agencies don’t have this problem; there is not a lot of public resistance to laws about crack cocaine. But there is not a consensus when it comes to immigration policy.”

While ICE has an obligation to enforce the existing law, Myers said, there is “push and pull” throughout the country of what that law should be.

“Right now, we are looking to see how to use existing authorities and partnerships more effectively while striving to protect civil liberties and human dignity,” she said.

Myers highlighted several new programs, including federal officers stationed at the Department of Motor Vehicles in Alabama, a national Law Enforcement Support Center that local officials can contact to check a person’s immigration status, and Operation Community Shield, a program the agency began in 2003 to arrest or deport trans-national gang members.

She also discussed companies that use illegal labor.

“I believe most employers want to do the right thing, but often they don’t know all the tools,” Myers said. “The employer sanctions system passed in 1968 is completely ineffective. It takes years to litigate charges, and the companies see the fine as the cost of doing business. We are now looking at the statute against companies gaining an advantage by bringing illegal workers in.”

Although she believes there are illegal immigrants coming to the U.S. to work for a better life, the agency has a duty to uphold the law, Myers said.

In addition to the keynote speech, panels on Friday and Saturday focused on assimilation, criminalization of immigrant law, and employment.

The symposium will be published in the 2007 edition of the University of Chicago Legal Forum.