Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Mark Morgan said Tuesday that his agency is committed to removing as many illegal immigrants as it can with its available resources.
Speaking a day after President Trump tweeted that ICE would begin the process next week of removing millions of illegal immigrants from the country, Morgan said it would not be possible in one quick swoop for his agency to remove all 11 million of the nation’s estimated undocumented immigrants.
But he indicated ICE is determined to carry out the president’s policies, and he criticized those who have demonized the agency.
“So clearly, we don’t have the resources to deport, you know, 11 million people in a short period of time,” he said. “But we have and we remove people every single year. And we're going to continue to do that.”
Morgan said the agency won't return to the past practice of avoiding prosecution of non-criminal aliens, although it will continue to prioritize criminals. He said changing that policy would send the signal that “you will never be touched.”
“Because then we're sending this message that if you belong to a certain demographic, and you come here illegally, and you stay here illegally, even after you receive due process in order [to be removed], then the message is if you're in that demographic, you will never be touched, what's going to happen? The incentive is so strong, they're going to keep coming.”
Morgan said Congress is to blame both for restricting the administration’s immigration enforcement budget and for tarnishing ICE’s image.
“You have lawmakers saying how horrible ICE is and how it needs to be abolished. And you have other NGOs [non-governmental organizations] that are saying the same thing, that makes it really challenging for a law enforcement organization to do that,” said Morgan.
New York freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D) on Monday night called ICE detention centers “exactly like concentration camps,” setting off a battle with Republican lawmakers.
Morgan said such rhetoric is based on “misinformation” about ICE's mission, but could be countered by building relationships across the aisle and through “full transparency.”
“It's a lot harder to call somebody a name, to call somebody a Nazi, or say somebody is a liar, I think it's a lot harder to say that when you actually have a relationship, when they actually get to know the person that's behind the badge. I've learned that throughout my years.”